The Air Force awarded 51 contracts to companies with a total initial value of $8.75 million in a matter of minutes at the Inaugural Air Force Pitch Day event held on March 6 to 7, 2019, in New York City. Let that sink in for a second. Air Force...Pitch Day...50 companies...$8.75 million... contracts in a matter of minutes.
This inaugural event accomplished something that was years in the making and yet was only the beginning of what the Air Force has in store for evolving how we work with small innovative startups and companies.
A couple years ago I was fortunate enough to work with some of the most innovative minds in the U.S. Air Force--namely Austin DeLorme, Jake Singleton, Chris Benson, and Steve Lauver--in establishing the first-of-its-kind Air Force Accelerator focused initially on Space and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
Since its inception, many companies to go through the program left with a common frustration. Similar to other accelerator programs within the startup ecosystem, the intent of our Air Force program was to validate product market fit or, in our case, product mission fit.
However, unlike commercial accelerator programs, once product mission fit was validated, government customers had a VERY difficult time getting companies on contract in any expedient manner.
Thanks to the hard work of innovators like Ryan Helbach, Zoe Casteel, Joey Arora, Dave Harden, David Shahady, and Jason Rathje, the solution to this consistent problem was the establishment of the AFWERX/AFRL Special Topics.
These "special topics" are Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) areas of interest with a reduced barrier to entry (5-page white paper and 10-page PowerPoint) and a focus on customer discovery, ultimately leading to a validated dual-use solution with product mission fit.
One year into the revamped SBIR program, Air Force Secretary of Acquisitions Dr. Will Roper pushed the entire Air Force acquisition enterprise to move FASTER, explore the boundaries of what is possible, and think more like a venture capital firm.
Part of this strategy was expanding the Special Topic SBIR program to include the Air Force's Inaugural Pitch Day as a pathfinder for a new way of doing business. Targeted specifically at the "time to market" or the time it took a government contract to be awarded.
For many of us, the Air Force's Inaugural Pitch Day was a dream come true. A melting pot of Department of Defense stakeholders, innovative companies, and venture capital firms all brought into a single room. A total of 60 companies pitched their ideas and the Air Force awarded 51 of those concepts contracts worth $150 thousand each to explore and, in some cases, deploy new capabilities to our warfighters.
Following the success found in the first Pitch Day, the Air Force has announced 12 pitch events in the current SBIR 19.2 solicitation (July 1, 2019). These 12 pitch events are broken into two different categories.
Category 1 are Air Force Pitch Days focused on SBIR Phase I proposals (similar to the inaugural pitch day) with their own SBIR solicitation.
Typical Phase I pitch companies perform the majority of their customer discovery AFTER contract award, earning $75 thousand across three months.
Category 2 are Air Force Pitch Days focused on SBIR Phase II proposals.
ALL of these Phase II Pitch Day proposals should apply to the Open Call for Innovative Defense-Related Dual-Purpose Technologies/Solutions with a Clear Air Force Stakeholder Need, Topic AF-192-001.
Typically, these pitch companies perform the majority of their customer discovery AFTER their Phase I contract award, earning $50 thousand across 3 to 4 months, but BEFORE the actual pitch event.
While a Phase I contract is typically $50 thousand to fund customer discovery activities, Phase II awards can be as high as $3 million (with $1.5 million matching funds) and are designed to develop and transition a prototype into operations in many cases. And just like the inaugural event, these Phase II Pitch Days will also be targeting RAPID contract awards (think we can do them in a day?).
Topics for Air Force Pitch Days focused on SBIR Phase II proposals are:
- Space Pitch Day
- Simulators Pitch Day
- Joint Strike Fighter Pitch Day: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Data Analytics
- Fighter/Bomber Pitch Day
- Rapid Sustainment Pitch Day
- Mobility and Training Aircraft Pitch Day
- Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Special Forces (SOF) Pitch Day
- Airborne Communications Pitch Day
- Hypersonics Pitch Day
- Base of the Future Concepts, Technologies, and Technology Applications
The source document for the below information can be found here. The dates for each pitch day will be released as they are confirmed.
NOTICE: All Phase II Pitch Days Link to the SAME Phase I SBIR 19.2 Topic, Topic AF-192-001.
The Air Force has combined the power of customer discovery and mixed it with the critical need to reduce the time for contract award. For many acquisition professionals across the Air Force, these pitch events represent a more modern way to do business.
They represent the Air Force and the DoD having a better understanding of what it means to be a startup founder or a small business owner as we’re doing our best to become your ideal customer.
For many startups and small business owners, these pitch events represent something else entirely--They represent the opportunity of a lifetime.
They represent a platform (literally a stage) for you to showcase your capabilities, your ideas, and your understanding of our mission needs. They represent the opportunity for non-dilutive seed funding and an introduction to an ideal early adopter. They represent an opportunity to take a validated commercial product and open customer channels to entirely new markets.
For companies and military members, Air Force Pitch Days are a dream come true. And as crazy as all of this sounds, this is only the beginning.
Source information from this post can be found at the AFWERX SBIR Homepage.
View the original article here.