Tap the Innovation Ecosystem
The DoD has a vast collection of opportunities to spur innovation among entrepreneurs. There is not however, a single platform bringing all of this information together. This page offers content to navigate the DoD innovation ecosystem environment and locate opportunities suited to the technology and goals of a company.
This list represents the innovation organizations currently known to the authors. Omissions are unintentional, and we will update when new organizations are brought to our attention.
OSD: DARPA | Defense Innovation Marketplace | Defense Innovation Unit | DEFENSEWERX | DoD Labs | Doolittle Institute | ERDCWERX | MGMWERX |
National Security Innovation Network | Other Transaction Consortia | Rapid Innovation Fund | Rapid Reaction Technology Office | SOFWERX |
Air Force: AF Techstars Accelerator | Air Force Research Lab | AFWERX | Allied Space Accelerator | Catalyst Accelerator | Hyperspace Challenge |
Starburst Accelerator | STRIKEWERX | T3 Accelerator | Army: Army Applications Lab | Army Research Lab | Army SBIR/STTR | xTechsearch |
Navy: NavalX | Naval Research Lab | Navy SBIR/STTR | Non-DoD: Challenge.gov | IQT
The following characterizations are an attempt to classify the offerings of the organizations profiled on this page:
Accelerator. Accelerators offer competitive and structured programs focused on scaling the growth of an existing company. Accelerators typically provide some amount of seed money and a network of mentors. Programs are typically a few months in duration culminating in an opportunity to pitch to investors at the conclusion of the program.
Challenge. A challenge can be a single or recurring contest or competition aimed at solving problems where emerging technologies have the potential to provide non-traditional solutions, or to expand the pool of participants to address critical issues. Challenges may offer cash prizes or may be part of a broader Challenge-Based Acquisition (ChBA) strategy that may result in a government contract.
AFWERX | Challenge.gov | ERDCWERX | Hyperspace Challenge | MGMWERX | NSIN | SOFWERX | STRIKEWERX | xTechsearch
Connector. The objective of connector organizations is to build networks and create relationships between government organizations, industry, private equity firms, and academia to facilitate partnerships to solve challenging problems by generating new solutions.
AFWERX | Defense Innovation Marketplace | DEFENSEWERX | Doolittle Institute | ERDCWERX | MGMWERX | NSIN | NavalX | RRTO | SOFWERX | STRIKEWERX
Funding Opportunity. Funding opportunities are offered by organizations that seek to invest in and enhance the chances of success of entities (often start-ups or small businesses) pursuing advancements in technology. These are not government contracts or agreements.
Government Contracting Authority. An organization with government contracting authority can execute contract awards or agreements for government projects. These organizations have warranted Contracting Officers who are authorized to execute awards and agreements on behalf of the government.
AFRL | AFWERX | Army Applications Lab | ARL | Army SBIR/STTR | DARPA | DIU | DoD Labs | NRL | Navy SBIR/STTR | OT Consortia | RIF
Incubator. Incubators focus on start-up and entrepreneurial entities with innovative ideas. They may provide seed funding and a collaborative physical environment to grow ideas, brand identification, and business plans. Not-for-profit and government or university operated incubators seek to enhance the economy and/or advance the state of the art of the US industrial base for government stakeholders.
MITRE’s Bridging Innovation Team offers a Visualization to assist in identifying the innovation organizations that may be well-suited for the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of solution offerings.
Technology Readiness Levels: Section 2.5 of the DoD Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA) Guidance (April 2011) provides definitions and descriptions of TRLs. Appendix IV of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Technology Readiness Assessment Guide (GAO-20-48G, January 2020) also provides TRL definitions and descriptions for the DoD as well as other organizations.
Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Innovation Organizations
Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) accelerates adoption of commercial technology throughout the military and growing the national security innovation base. DIU partners with organizations across the Department of Defense, from the services and components to combatant commands and defense agencies, to rapidly prototype and field advanced commercial solutions that address national security challenges.
DIU aims to move from problem identification to prototype contract award in 60–90 days. Prototype projects typically run from 12–24 months and are awarded through a competitive Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) process. DIU awards prototype Other Transaction (OT) agreements, enabling a non-competitive follow-on production OT agreement or FAR-based contract following a successful prototype.
- Artificial Intelligence
- Human Systems
How to engage: View and respond to open solicitations on DIU’s webpage
DEFENSEWERX connects a national network of individuals, businesses, academia, and government organizations to enable creative and integrated solutions for DoD customers. DEFENSEWERX acts as a super connector by assessing DoD customer needs and linking the right expertise to create successful outcomes and optimize results to expanding the capabilities and strategic supremacy of today’s warfighters.
DEFENSEWERX is the overarching entity for a family of Innovation Hubs – each focused on technology and innovation leveraging local businesses and innovators.
The Doolittle Institute an Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) Innovation Institute supporting the AFRL Munitions Directorate to commercialize AFRL technologies in the private sector, enable rapid technology delivery to the warfighter, and identify and foster new research & development (R&D) partnerships.
The Doolittle Institute works with AFRL contacts within the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program to connect businesses with opportunities.
How to engage: Public Brochure
SOFWERX is a platform that helps solve challenging Warfighter problems at scale through collaboration, ideation, events and rapid prototyping. Chartered to: create and maintain a platform to accelerate delivery of innovative capabilities to US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and facilitate capability refinement through exploration, experimentation, and assessment of promising technology.
The SOFWERX ecosystem is comprised of industry, Labs, academia, and government stakeholders. When USSOCOM brings a Warfighter problem to SOFWERX, the SOFWERX team alerts the ecosystem participants via email about the opportunity and how they can participate. There is no fee to be a member of the SOFWERX ecosystem. Join the ecosystem here.
The Foundry (located within the SOFWERX facility) is a rapid prototyping workshop containing the following capabilities:
- Iron Worker
- Manual Lathe/Mill
- CNC Lathe/Mill
- Plasma Cutter
- Horizontal Bandsaw
- Hydraulic Compress Break
- Drill Press
- 3D Printers
TeamWERX is a prize challenge platform designed to find innovative solutions to warfighter problems. Current TeamWERX challenges are posted to the TeamWERX page. Past prize challenge awards have ranged from a few thousand dollars to >$100,000.
How to engage: Announcement of SOFWERX events may be made at sofwerx.org and/or teamwerx.org.
MGMWERX is an initiative of the Air Force to fast track solutions and enhance capabilities through deployed solutions. MGMWERX is a catalyst for agile Air Force engagement across industry, academia and non-traditional contributors to create transformative opportunities and foster an Air Force culture of innovation.
MGMWERX Challenge is one of many ‘products’ created by MGMWERX to drive change by bringing people together to collide and collaborate. MGMWERX Challenge is the combination of the defense, academic, startup and small business worlds to collaborate through challenges and live events.
- Most challenges are open, seeking to facilitate dialogue and collaboration, participants can usually see, comment, rate and community vote on each other’s submissions.
- Solutions will be reviewed by MGMWERX. Winning selections will be engaged for further discussions which is typically some form of an event or private meeting and possibly even eligible to be given a military contract.
- The challenge does not guarantee nor imply any future contracts with any of the armed forces. There is no monetary prize for this portion of the Challenge. The main “prize” will be the exposure your idea will get among military decision makers and investors. If your idea gets their attention, it could lead to a future contract or funding.
Using research and development agreements, contracts, competitions, public-private partnerships, and other tools, MGMWERX can address Air Force innovation challenges while helping grow the circle of entrepreneurs and investors interested in working the strategic and technical challenges associated with maintaining U.S. national security.
How to engage: Challenges are posted on MGMWERX Challenge page.
ERDCWERX has tools to empower small businesses, entrepreneurs, and academia to identify new partnerships for innovation and commercialization with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in military engineering, environmental quality and inspections, civil works and water resources, geospatial research and engineering, and engineered resilient systems.
ERDCWERX events and tech challenges are used as a way to solve challenging Warfighter problems for the ERDC.
Individuals, startups, small businesses, large enterprises, academics, and research labs are invited to submit solutions to specific tech challenges launched by ERDCWERX in collaboration with the ERDC.
How to engage: Announcement of ERDCWERX events may be made at the www.erdcwerx.org website.
The Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO) develops prototypes and hosts technology demonstrations to increase the speed from idea to developed capability, leading to a more lethal, resilient, and rapidly innovating Joint Force.
- Seeks innovative ideas from small businesses; traditional and non-traditional performers; academia; Combatant Commands (CCMDs); DoD Services; government labs; Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) & University Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs)
- Proposals accepted on a rolling basis
- Streamlined process for funding consideration
- Awards made throughout the year of execution
The RRTO executes three categories of projects:
Emerging Capabilities Technology Development (ECTD)
- Conceptual prototypes aligned with the “Road to Dominance” modernization plan
- Pursues risk-reducing technology prototypes and demonstrations of cutting-edge land, sea, air, and space systems for the Joint Warfighter
- Demonstrates art of the possible; project duration < 36 months, project awards < $6M
- Rolling start during execution year accelerates cycle of innovation
Quick Reaction Special Projects (QRSP)
- Operational prototypes that deliver quick wins to the warfighter
- Matures emerging technologies for operational use by the Joint Warfighter
- Delivers innovative prototypes to help address immediate needs; project duration 12-18 months, project awards < $1M
- Rolling start during execution year to increase speed of delivery
Rapid Prototyping Program (RPP)
- Operational Prototypes that accelerate innovation within Services’ programs
- Develops prototypes that drive down risk and foster creative operating concepts
- Anticipate and respond to emergent Service and Agency issues and time-sensitive threats by selecting projects within the year of execution
- Annual call for proposals; FY2018 projects averaged <$10M
Technology areas reflect National Defense Strategy and Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering (USD R&E) modernization priorities:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Directed Energy
- Fully Networked Command Control and Communications (FNC3)
- Quantum Science
The Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) is a competitive, merit-based program that accelerates fielding of innovative technologies into fielded operational capability or defense acquisition programs. The RIF is administered by the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD(R&E)) Small Business and Technology Partnerships (SBTP).
Project cost and schedule limitations:
- Limited to two years of funding
- Cost no more than $3 million
- Satisfy an operational or national security need
- Accelerate or enhance military capability
- In support of major defense acquisition program
- Stimulate innovative technologies
- Reduce acquisition / lifecycle costs
- Address technical risk
- Improve timeliness & thoroughness of test & evaluation outcomes
Preference for Small Business Awards:
- Awards to other than small business are allowed, but ONLY after the approval authority deems the offer is superior to an offer received from a small business
- Small Business Standard defined by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)
- 541715: Research and Development in Physical, Engineering, and Life Sciences
- 541714: Research and Development in Biotechnology
- Participation by minorities and disadvantaged persons is encouraged
- Foreign participants and/or individuals may participate; some requirements may cover export-controlled technologies
Competitive, Merit-Based Two-Step Process:
- Issue Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) with DoD component requirements
- Industry Response: 3-page White Paper + Quad Chart
- Evaluations are “Go” or “No Go”
- Highest rated “Go” offerors invited to submit full proposals
- Further competition – invite for proposal DOES NOT guarantee an award
- Highest-rated proposals lead to award
Research topics are identified in the annual RIF Broad Agency Announcement. Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) 6-9 are desired and required for majority of RIF awards to facilitate transition to defense acquisition programs.
Lower TRLs (4-5) are awarded by exception only if:
- Breakthrough capability or operational game-changer
- Cost neutral to the acquisition program
- Can be accommodated within program schedule
Appendix IV of GAO Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA) Guide GAO-20-48G
How to engage: Public notice posted to the Defense SBIR/STTR Innovation Portal and Defense Innovation Marketplace
**There will not be a RIF Broad Agency Announcement in FY20 due to lack of funding**
GAO Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA) Guide (GAO-20-48G), Jan 2020
DoD Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA) Guidance, April 2011
RIF Program Overview
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) works within an innovation ecosystem that includes academia, industry (traditional, non-traditional, small business, and start-ups) and government partners to create new strategic opportunities and novel tactical options with military focus. For decades, this vibrant, interlocking ecosystem of diverse collaborators has proven to be a nurturing environment for the intense creativity that DARPA is designed to cultivate.
DARPA often awards prototype Other Transaction agreement awards under its Broad Agency Announcements (more info on the BAAs here). This enables the use of non-competitive follow-on production activities to successful prototype Other Transactions (more info on prototype OTs here).
DARPA executes an active Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program that provides small, high-tech businesses and academic institutions the opportunity to propose radical, innovative, high-risk approaches to address existing and emerging national security threats; thereby supporting DARPA’s overall strategy to bridge the gap between fundamental discoveries and the provision of new military capabilities (more info on SBIR and STTR programs and phases here).
DARPA issues SBIR and STTR funding opportunities on a “just-in-time” basis, outside of the three pre-determined announcements issued at the DoD level. SBIR awards can made under a SBIR/STTR Broad Agency Announcement or Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) construct (more info on CSO here). Awards under either construct are typically firm-fixed price, cost-plus-fixed-fee, or other transaction agreements.
- Phase I: awards typically less than $150,000; no more than 6 months in duration
- Phase II: awards typically less than $1,000,000; up to 24 months in duration
- Phase III: no limitations to award dollar amount or duration; not awarded by SBIR program
The DARPA SBIR/STTR Transition & Commercialization Support Program (TCSP) is designed to support transition and commercialization planning activities for DARPA-funded SBIR/STTR projects.
The TCSP goal is to maximize the potential for SBIR/STTR companies to move their technology beyond Phase II, and into other research and development programs for further maturity, or into solutions or products for DoD acquisition programs, other Federal programs, and/or the commercial market.
TCSP services are provided at no cost to awardees.
Rethink Complex Military Systems:
To help enable faster development and integration of breakthrough military capabilities in today’s rapidly shifting landscape, DARPA is working to:
- Make weapons systems more modular and easily upgraded and improved
- Assure superiority in the air, maritime, ground, space and cyber domains
- Improve position, navigation and timing (PNT) without depending on the satellite-based Global Positioning System
- Augment defenses against terrorism
Master the Information Explosion:
DARPA is developing novel approaches to deriving insights from massive datasets, with powerful big-data tools.
The Agency is also developing technologies to ensure that the data and systems with which critical decisions are made are trustworthy, such as automated cyber defense capabilities and methods to create fundamentally more secure systems.
And DARPA is addressing the growing need to ensure privacy at various levels of need without losing the national security value that comes from appropriate access to networked data.
Harness Biology as Technology:
To leverage recent breakthroughs in neuroscience, immunology, genetics and related fields, DARPA in 2014 created its Biological Technologies Office, which has enabled a new level of momentum for the Agency’s portfolio of innovative, bio-based programs.
DARPA’s work in this area includes programs to accelerate progress in synthetic biology, outpace the spread of infectious diseases and master new neuro-technologies.
Expand the Technological Frontier:
DARPA’s core work has always involved overcoming seemingly insurmountable physics and engineering barriers and, once showing those daunting problems to be tractable after all, applying new capabilities made possible by these breakthroughs directly to national security needs. Maintaining momentum in this essential specialty, DARPA is working to achieve new capabilities by:
- Applying deep mathematics
- Inventing new chemistries
- Processes and materials
- Harnessing quantum physics
How to engage:
Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs), Requests for Proposals (RFPs), and Requests for Information (RFIs) can be found on the official federal acquisition opportunities websites, sam.gov and grants.gov.
DARPA SBIR/STTR opportunities are posted to the Defense SBIR/STTR Innovation Portal (DSIP).
A partial listing of DARPA opportunities can also be found on DARPA’s Opportunities page.
DARPA For Small Businesses
DARPA SBIR/STTR Program
Transition and Commercialization (includes Transition & Commercialization Strategy Development Guide)
Defense Innovation Marketplace is a resource enabling communication about DoD investment priorities to help industry better plan Independent Research & Development (IR&D) investment projects.
Links to Science & Technology strategy focused Communities of Interest and upcoming and past Technical Interchange Meetings, and long range National Security planning information.
- Advanced Electronics
- Air Platforms
- Biomedical Asbrem
- Directed Energy
- Electronic Warfare
- Energy and Power Technologies
- Engineered Resilient Systems
- Ground and Sea Platforms
- Human Systems
- Kinetic Weapons
- Materials and Manufacturing Processes
DoD Laboratories are designated by either the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) or by the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD R&E) and have unique funding flexibilities, authorities, and contractual vehicles available to them. For example, labs can execute Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) to facilitate tech transfer between government and industry. This enables industry to further develop technology that originated in a DoD lab.
How to engage: A list of DoD Labs, with descriptions and webpage links, is available on the USD R&E page.
Examples of DoD Labs
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) leads the discovery, development and delivery of warfighting technologies for air, space and cyberspace forces. ARFL is pushing the boundaries and creating a new tomorrow through unparalleled research.
The AFRL, on behalf of the Department of the Air Force, is developing an innovative business process to connect potential partners seeking to collaborate with the Air Force and Space Force science and technology (S&T) enterprise through a virtual front door, AirForceTechConnect. TechConnect is designed for entrepreneurs, small businesses, industry, academia, and others.
- Air Force Science and Technology (S&T) Strategy
- Air Force Vanguards
- Aerospace Systems
- Materials and Manufacturing
- Basic Research
- Directed Energy
- Human Performance
- Artificial Intelligence
- COVID-19 Response
The Army Research Laboratory (ARL) conducts foundational research in support of U.S. Army Modernization and is focused on disruptive science and technology (S&T) for the long term, performing research to answer the hardest S&T questions for future Army capabilities. This research is based on seven foundational research competencies as well as ten Essential Research Programs.
Foundational Research Competencies
- Ballistics Sciences
- Computational Sciences
- Human Sciences
- Materials and Manufacturing Sciences
- Network and Information Sciences
- Propulsion Sciences
- Protection Sciences
- Artificial Intelligence for Maneuver & Mobility (AIMM)
- Convergence of Lethality, Protection & Autonomy to Dominate Ground Combat (CONVERGE)
- Foundational Research for Electronic Warfare in Multi-Domain Operations (FREEDOM)
- Human Autonomy Teaming (HAT)
- Long Range Distributed & Collaborative Engagements (LRDC)
- Physics of Soldier Protection to Defeat Evolving Threats
- Quantum Information Sciences – Position Navigation & Timing (QIS-PNT)
- Science of Additive Manufacturing for Next Generation Munitions
- Transformational Synbio for Military Environments (TRANSFORME)
- Versatile Tactical Power and Propulsion (VICTOR)
How to engage: ARL Business Opportunities
The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) provides the advanced scientific capabilities required to bolster our country’s position of global naval leadership. Here, in an environment where the nation’s best scientists and engineers are inspired to pursue their passion, everyone is focused on research that yields immediate and long-range applications in the defense of the United States.
- Information Technology
- Optical Sciences
- Tactical Electronic Warfare
- Space System Development
- Spacecraft Engineering
Materials Science and Component Technology
- Computational Physics & Fluid Dynamics
- Material Science & Technology
- Plasma Physics
- Electronics Science & Technology
- Biomolecular Science & Engineering
Institute for Nanoscience: conducts highly innovative, interdisciplinary research at the intersections of the fields of materials, electronics and biology in the nanometer size domain.
Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research: provides specialized facilities to support highly innovative, multidisciplinary research in autonomous systems, including intelligent autonomy, human-autonomous system interaction and collaboration, sensor systems, power and energy systems, networking and communications, and platforms.
How to engage: Doing business with NRL
National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) is a problem-solving network that adapts to the emerging needs of those who serve in the defense of national security.
NSIN brings together defense, academic, and entrepreneurial innovators to solve national security problems in new ways.
- Acceleration: identifies startups emerging from the academic and the venture communities that can address DoD problems in innovative ways.
- Collaboration: facilitates collision events that connect service members with academic and non-traditional partners to develop and prototype new solutions to solve national security problems.
- National Service: focus on building models of service that account for generational and cultural differences between the military, academic, and venture communities, and that provide flexible pathways to official service within the DoD.
How to engage: NSIN webpage
NSIN Defense Innovation Foundry
The NSIN Defense Innovation Foundry, powered by FedTech, matches breakthrough Department of Defense (DoD) lab technologies with teams of entrepreneurs during intensive, six-month cohorts to solve the real-world problems of DoD and commercial customers.
Foundry is an intensive, 100% virtual program executed in two phases. Phase I focuses on customer discovery, exploring the commercial viability of the DoD technology, and identifying business and technology development pathways. Teams that determine their technology has enough potential to form a company move on to Phase II. Phase II focuses on company formation, technology licensing, and identifying commercial and public funding opportunities. At the end of the cohort, teams present market assessment reports to the labs and compete at a “Showcase Day” live pitch event to potential customers and investors.
In 2022, NSIN Foundry participants have the opportunity to win a portion of $50K awards for the teams that demonstrate the most substantial potential to commercialize a DoD technology to produce capabilities that will benefit the DoD and the private sector.
Download the Foundry Prize Competition Rules.
How to engage: Foundry Application
Air Force Innovation Organizations
AFWERX serves as an entry point for industry to do business with the Air Force. Supports the mission of making the Air Force more innovative by uncovering ideas and opportunities to improve the service, connecting ideas with legitimate solutions, and transitioning tools to the warfighter. AFWERX is a catalyst for agile Air Force engagement across industry, academia, and non-traditional contributors to create transformative opportunities and foster an Air Force culture of innovation.
AFWERX Challenge is the combination of the defense, academic, startup, private sector, and small business worlds to collaborate through challenges and live events. Most of the challenges are open, seeking to facilitate dialogue and collaboration.
On open challenges, participants can usually see, comment, rate, and community vote on submissions that are ultimately reviewed by the US Air Force. Winning selections will be engaged for further discussions which is typically an event or private meeting. Final selections might be funded for demonstration, testing, and may even be eligible to be awarded a military contract.
Challenge areas include:
- Strategy, Training, Education
- Military Life and Family
- Emerging Technology
How to engage: See current Challenges here.
Agility Prime is a non-traditional program seeking to accelerate the commercial market for advanced electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) and other transformative vertical flight vehicles (aka flying cars) for government missions in a way that accelerates the emerging commercial market.
Agility Prime aims to bring together industry, investor, and government communities to establish safety and security standards while accelerating commercialization of this revolutionary technology.
Technology areas of interest include:
- Advanced Aircraft Materials and Manufacturing
- Novel Acoustics Techniques
- Subsystem, Aircraft, and Portfolio Design and Analysis Tools
- Rapid Mission Planning for Dense Environments and Logistic Efficiencies
- Command and Control of Air Vehicles
- Robotic Landing Gear
- Large Flotation Devices
- Modular Payload Designs
- Air Vehicle Data Networks and RF Waveforms
- Sense and Avoid Architectures, Algorithms, and Sensors
- Electrical Power Storage, Generation, and Charging
- Distributed Electric Pulse Control Techniques
How to engage: The Innovative Capabilities Opening (ICO), below, establishes a rapid contracting mechanism beginning in 2020 with a “Race to Certification” series to drive government procurement of operational capability by 2023.
Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)
The SBIR program enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization by partnering with Air Force units for customer discover purposes.
In 2018, AFWERX, in collaboration with other Air Force organizations like the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), revamped the congressionally-funded SBIR process by reducing submission requirements, accelerating the time it takes to issue contracts to under 30 days, and introducing “Open Topics” that allow companies to submit their commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solutions as opposed to developing a product for a more specific solicitation.
Companies in Phase I of the program must locate an Air Force customer and sign a memorandum of agreement in order to move onto a Phase II, which establishes a partnership between the organizations with the intent to trial the product and adapt it according to the end-user’s needs. Following the trial run, the Air Force customers can decide if they would like to fund the product to move on to Phase III, which can be accomplished through a sole-source contract.
- Applicant is for-profit business based in the United States
- 500 or fewer employees
- Principal investigator’s primary employment (more than 50 percent) must be with small business
- Additional requirements apply
Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR)
The SBIR program’s counterpart is an opportunity for university teams (undergrad, graduate, doctorate, post-doctorate, faculty-staff) that have formed companies and partnered with a university or non-profit entrepreneurial development organization to do business with the Air Force.
- Applicant is for-profit business based in the United States
- Partner with U.S. research institution
- Formal cooperative research and development effort
- At least 40% of work performed by small business while 30% of work performed by research institution
- Additional requirements apply
(more info on SBIR and STTR programs and phases here)
How to engage: Air Force SBIR/STTR page and SBIR/STTR opportunities are posted to the Defense SBIR/STTR Innovation Portal (DSIP).
AFVentures is a collaboration between Air Force Acquisition, AFWERX, and AF SBIR/STTR. It serves as an easy open door for commercial innovators and private capital investment to help the Air Force solve problems and deliver better capability to the warfighter, faster.
How to engage: AFVentures page
AFWERX Innovation Hubs
AFWERX Austin focuses on developing strategic partnerships with various government entities such as Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), Air Education and Training Command (AETC) Technology Integration Detachment, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOIS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to identify technological and procedural requirements.
Through these collaborations, AFWERX Austin is able to harness the developments in technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, additive manufacturing, robotics, virtual reality, immersive learning technologies, and blockchain to strengthen the capabilities across nationwide defense organizations.
AFWERX Austin specializes in:
- Integrating innovative technologies with Air Force programs
- Augmented and virtual reality technologies for training
- Rapid testing and evaluation with Air Force stakeholders
AFWERX DC provides a public workspace for Air Force innovation and collaboration to identify and connect people and resources across government, industry, and academia in partnership with Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation (VT-ARC).
AFWERX DC specializes in:
- Indentifying and engaging experts to support Airmen innovation projects
- Forecasting and reporting on technology trends to inform the AFWERX team
- Building and managing a database of contributors interested in working with the Air Force
AFWERX Vegas has proximity to Nellis Air Force Base and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) and is positioned to connect people and resources across government, the private sector, and academia. The Air Force supports and provides collaborative spaces and tools for innovation efforts.
AFWERX Vegas specializes in:
- Industry challenges which provide fast, non-bureaucratic pathways for Air Force stakeholders to scout the best solutions from industry and academia
- A prototyping workshop where Airmen, students, or garage tinkerers build and test technologies
- Trained design thinking facilitators who convene subject-matter experts from the Air Force, industry and academia to support Airmen intrapreneurs
- Event and office space for Air Force teams or entrepreneurs
How to engage:
- Guide to AFWERX for Industry
- Air Force SBIR/STTR opportunities are posted to the Defense SBIR/STTR Innovation Portal (DSIP)
- Air Force SBIR/STTR webpage for additional information
- AFWERX Challenge opportunities
- Join the AFWERX Ecosystem
Accelerators and Incubators
Air Force Technology Accelerators provide startup companies with education, resources, mentorship, and access to investors and customers in order to bolster those companies’ likelihood of success. In 2017, the Air Force began sponsoring accelerators to attract high-quality companies and to facilitate collaboration opportunities between those companies and their potential Air Force customers.
AFWERX sponsors a flagship accelerator each year to improve upon and draw awareness to the tool, but Technology Accelerators can be leveraged by any USAF Program Manager to scout and validate emerging technologies in their mission area.
The Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars is a 3-month, in-residence Accelerator in Boston that focuses on commercially viable startups with dual-purpose technologies – a private sector application as well as government application; though startups with innovative solutions in any dual-purpose industry are encouraged to apply, specific areas of interest change each year.
Techstars offers funding, mentorship, and access to the Techstars network for life. The program culminates in a demo day where angel investors and venture capitalists participate.
AFWERX partners with the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program and Techstars to offer the The Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars to engage with the non-DoD innovation ecosystem to access startup inventors with disruptive new technologies and deliver commercially viable solutions to the warfighter in an accelerated timeframe. The Air Force brings a wealth of business opportunities, especially for high-risk early enterprises. They also have subject matter expertise and global reach.
How to engage: techstars.com/accelerators/air-force
Techstars Allied Space Accelerator is a virtual accelerator program interested in the next generation of space technologies with a concentration on companies in the commercial space industry. The program is run in partnership with the United States Air Force, the Netherlands Ministry of Defense, the Norwegian Space Agency and the Norwegian Ministry of Defense.
Similar to other Techstars accelerator programs, but operates in a predominantly virtual manner that will not require participating companies to relocate to a physical hub for the duration of the 13-week program. Alternatively, participating companies partake in the program through a heavily digital experience complemented by three 1-week on-site visits with the accelerator’s governmental partners. During these in-person week-long sessions, founders convene to work together, build camaraderie, connect with mentors and foster relationships with the partners.
- Geospatial analytics
- Satellite servicing
- Space situational awareness
- Resilient communications
- AI in space
- And others
How to engage:
Program page: techstars.com/accelerators/allied-space
Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator, a Los Angeles-based program, focuses on the next generation of space technology companies and related frontier technologies. Startup companies in commercial space or that are developing related technologies are encouraged to apply.
This program is the first of its kind, bringing together industrial, military, and civil space leaders to support entrepreneurs disrupting the space industry. The program consortium includes: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, U.S. Air Force, Lockheed Martin, Maxar Technologies, SAIC, and Israel Aerospace Industries North America. Through commercial partnerships, grants, and pilots, partners also provide the early customer traction and validation that allows Accelerator companies to reach the next level in their growth.
Just as technologies developed for the space industry have found their way into other uses (velcro, GPS, freeze drying, LASIK, dustbusters), the space industry is similarly looking to adapt and partner with commercial technologies. Starburst is interested in relevant technologies developed for industries as diverse as automotive, agriculture, mining, energy, and industrial manufacturing and is especially excited to invest in companies with novel applications in artificial intelligence.
Examples of broader enabling technologies for investment include:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Design and collaboration tools
- autonomous systems
- terrestrial navigation
- advanced manufacturing
- edge computing and big data processing
- power systems (including energy generation, storage, and management)
How to engage: techstars.com/accelerators/starburst-space
Catalyst Space Accelerator, sponsored by the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and United States Space Force (USSF), is a defense and national security industry accelerator, headquartered on the Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Catalyst Space Accelerator is designed to increase the Air Force’s awareness and rapid acquisition of commercial dual-use space technology by providing relevant business development training to Accelerator companies and connecting these Entrepreneurs with users, decision makers, and potential new customers in the DoD and commercial realms.
Catalyst Campus for Technology & Innovation is a collaborative ecosystem where industry, small business, workforce training, entrepreneurs, startups and venture capital intersect with Colorado’s aerospace and defense industry to create community, spark innovation and stimulate business growth.
Program offers a semi-residential 12-week program for second stage businesses and includes office space, investment, Air Force liaisons, subject matter experts, a collaborative ecosystem, and resources necessary to nurture the next level of innovation. The program culminates in a Demo Day with Government and Commercial investors, NewSpace champions, industry experts, venture capitalists, and others.
- Startup or small business focused on technology relevant to the problem statement
- Startup or small business with under 50 employees (ideally)
- Ability to travel to Colorado Springs, Colorado every other week to attend residential curriculum
Participating companies are funded $12-15K to participate in the accelerator. This funding is provided by a grant from a Corporate Sponsor or seed funding by a private investment organization. The latter is reimbursed through a success fee model where companies repay the investment based on their success related directly or indirectly to their involvement in the Accelerator.
Each participating company receives $4K per month of the Accelerator. On the final day of the session, an additional $3K will be given to each company that has met the requirements of the program and turned in their deliverables. Deliverables include, but are not limited to, customer discovery logs, business development documentation, Demo Day pitch deck, and dutiful participation in cohort sessions for the 12-week duration
- Cyber for Space Applications
- Data Fusion for Space Applications
- Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance
- Resilient Commercial Space Communications
- Positioning, Navigation, and Timing
- Terrestrial Weather
How to engage: catalystaccelerator.space/apply/
Hyperspace Challenge, powered by the Air Force Research Lab New Mexico and ABQid, brings together tech startups with government innovators to accelerate collaboration between commercial and government communities. Virtual and in-person program facilitates interactions between promising technologies and timely problems to increase rapid acquisition and contracting opportunities.
- Webinar Series – interactive sessions with government challenge sponsors to understand their needs and challenges and how your capabilities may help solve their problems. Multiple government sponsors submit problem statements and companies can select which they plan to address. Problem statements are posted to Hyperspace Challenge webpage ahead of the webinar series.
- Proposals – submissions explaining how your company’s capabilities respond to specific problem statement(s). Finalists are selected to participate in the Hyper Accelerator to demonstrate capabilities to government agency representatives.
- Hyper Accelerator – invited startups and government innovators will come together to iterate on top concepts and explore opportunities for contracting and rapid acquisition. The best capabilities during the week will be awarded prizes between $5K to 25K to spur further efforts required to get the best company innovations into the hands of government users.
The Hyperspace team works with each government problem sponsor to confirm there is a pathway to purchasing/contracting at the end of Hyperspace Challenge, but cannot guarantee that challenge participants will win contracts or undergo rapid acquisition with government agencies.
The Hyperspace team helps facilitate the government contracting process as new contracts are a primary goal of Hyperspace Challenge. Startups who have participated in similar programs have gone on to contract or have their technology purchased by government users they met during their respective programs.
Awards will be distributed as grants for the purpose of assisting the recipient in pursuing acquisition and/or contracting opportunities with Air Force or other government entities.
Hyperspace Challenge is one of many initiatives emerging as Space Technology Accelerators within the Air Force, and participating in the challenge brings you into a network that also includes Colorado Springs and Los Angeles, as well as other programs focused on increasing the speed of innovation within the defense community.
Hyperspace Challenge 2020: Trusted Autonomy – How might we accelerate adoption of trusted autonomous solutions for space? Government sponsor problem statements.
How to engage: hyperspacechallenge.com/
STRIKEWERX Innovation Hub connects people and resources across government, industry, and academia to solve Air Force Global Strike Command’s most challenging problems. STRIKEWERX provides collaborative space to give traditional and non-traditional industry partners – to include small businesses, start-ups, and academia – easy access to meet with Air Force leaders and Airmen to discuss needs, gaps, and requirements.
Industry: Through demonstration of prototypes and public challenge events, you can showcase your solution to Air Force stakeholders within Global Strike Command and connect to technology within Air Force Global Strike Command that has commercial application.
Academia: Through technology transfer and innovative programming that spurs technical discussions, a community of innovative minds will facilitate a more agile, stronger Air Force.
- STRIKEWERX is the official “store front” to traditional and non-traditional industry partners to include small businesses, start-ups, and academia for Global Strike Command.
- STRIKEWERX leverages the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program to make awards to small businesses and start-ups.
- Similar to AFWERX, STRIKEWERX hosts “challenge events” and limited-time engagements on single topics.
- Typical STRIKEWERX solutions will be software-oriented, but there may be some virtual reality interests.
- Not looking for new weapon ideas or other kinds of projects that flow from the standard requirements and acquisition system.
How to engage: strikewerx.com/resources
T3 Accelerator aims to reduce start-up barriers for small businesses working with the government through a 10-week intensive program. The Air Force is serious about attracting talented start-ups with warfighter solutions and contributing angel-investment-like funding to get these technologies to the warfighter faster.
The T3 Accelerator takes topics generated by the Air Force and examines them through a defense and commercial market lens. The ultimate goal of this program is to introduce SBIR-funded technologies into the marketplace by bridging the gap between traditional SBIR coaching and entrepreneurial training.
This Accelerator prepares participants for a “Direct to Phase II” application. This simply means obtaining a SBIR Phase I award is NOT a prerequisite for this Phase II application. Additionally, this is an investment opportunity that is non-dilutive of your equity.
- Commercialization Plan – develop a comprehensive commercialization plan, with a deep dive into customer discovery, to identify military and commercial customers and understand how their value proposition compare and connect
- An Investable Business Plan – program culminates in a Demo Day that provides the forum for companies to pitch to an audience of SBIR grant funders, outside capital investors and other Air Force buyers
- Preparation for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program application process – program offers expedited timelines and access to resources to aid in the SBIR application process
The Air Force is looking for startups and small businesses that are developing:
- Materials and manufacturing processes focused on low cost
- Reusable and minimal maintenance (attritable) structures
- Engines and sensors in autonomous unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and space systems
Detailed topic descriptions here.
How to engage: t3accelerator.com/register/
Army Innovation Organizations
To capitalize on opportunities for breakthrough research and development in key civil-military technology areas relevant to the Army’s modernization priorities, Army Futures Command (AFC) has established the Army Applications Lab (AAL) to capitalize on the extended marketplace of ideas in government, academia, industry, and civilian innovation ecosystems and lead the research and development of disruptive innovations – i.e., technology demonstrators and early-stage products that revolutionize Army capabilities and corresponding civilian industries and create a first-mover advantage for the Army across a full spectrum of missions. A key focus for AAL is to identify and transition new technologies, methodologies, and concepts related to:
- Translational Research: Approaches and methodologies that accelerate the Army’s innovation cycle through the translation of emerging technologies to Army capability objectives, including the Army’s six modernization priorities and associated programs and lines of effort
- Fourth Industrial Revolution Technologies: Approaches and methodologies that are characterized by a fusion of technologies in the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Specific technologies of interest include robotics; artificial intelligence; autonomy; augmented and virtual reality; nanotechnology; quantum information systems; synthetic biology and biotechnology; Internet of Things (IoT); space systems; advanced networking, communications, and command and control technology; additive manufacturing; and power and energy systems
- Commercialization: Approaches and methodologies that support the research and development of dual-use solutions – i.e., solutions that support both emerging Army needs and scalable commercial markets
AAL solicits proposals and awards procurement contracts, grants, cooperative agreements, Technology Investment Agreements, and Other Transactions using a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). There are two approaches AAL will use to engage with potential applicants under the BAA:
- Ongoing Topics: AAL does not necessarily have funding for any particular research area at any given time. AAL will assess whitepapers and proposals and return feedback to applicants on a not-to-exceed quarterly basis
- Special Topics: AAL will post specific areas with strong potential for funding on its website and on grants.gov
The three main lines of effort associated with the BAA are (1) discovery, (2) acceleration, and (3) translation of disruptive technology applications:
- Discovery of novel capability concepts that capitalize on emerging technologies and application insights from the widest possible range of sources
- Acceleration of disruptive applications of technology that delivers a 2-4 times improvement over current or planned Army capabilities through the research, development, and validation of technology demonstrators
- Translation of breakthrough innovations that create a scalable, first-mover advantage for the Army in strategic technology areas by synchronizing knowledge generated in the discovery and acceleration phases with key decision points across the Army Future Force Modernization Enterprise (FFME).
AFC is seeking novel ideas or application of the following technologies (and others) across a wide range of ongoing focus areas:
- Applied Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Machine Learning
- Augmented & Virtual Reality
- Networks & Cyber
- Energy & Materials
How to engage: AAL Broad Agency Announcement for Disruptive Applications: aal.army/submit/
The xTechSearch competition was launched to revolutionize the way the Army attracts and encourages innovation. The xTechSearch competition engages the non-defense business sector and start-up technology companies, with the Army Science and Technology ecosystem to leverage cutting edge technologies. xTechSearch is sponsored by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)), targeting small businesses to uncover novel dual-use science and technology solutions.
The xTech Program manages the Army’s prize competitions to award and accelerate innovative technology solutions that can help solve Army challenges.
The xTechSearch program provides increasing non-dilutive seed prizes to select small businesses to proceed in the competition. Ultimately, 10 small business finalists will receive awards of $120,000 each and be invited to demonstrate a proof-of-concept of their dual-use technologies at an Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference. A grand prize winner will be selected and awarded an additional $250,000 prize.
In addition to the prizes, the xTechSearch program will provide education, mentorship, and networking opportunities to help integrate small businesses into the Army science and technology ecosystem. Each xTechSearch competition is comprised of four phases:
- Concept White Papers
- Technology Pitches
Each phase has a unique set of requirements, as well as benefits and prizes for the selected winners.
The xTech Accelerator program is designed to help xTechSearch winners be successful via education, mentoring, networking, and community building. This program is available to xTechSearch finalists. The ultimate goals of the xTech Accelerator are:
- Develop xTech winners as quickly as possible
- Transition technologies to the warfighter
- Provide guidance on product development for dual-use technology
All xTechSearch participants will be invited to join the xTech Community, operated by FedTech – a private community of defense innovators, mentors, Army leaders, educational opportunities, and in-person events. This initiative will pull together participants from multiple xTechSearch cohorts into a bespoke community of defense technology innovators.
How to engage: arl.army.mil/xtechsearch/index.html
The Army Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs allow small, high-tech US businesses (less than 500 employees) and academia the opportunity to provide innovative research and development solutions in response to critical Army needs. By capturing the tremendous and agile talents of the US small business community, the SBIR and STTR programs benefit the DoD, the private sector, and our national economy.
The Army receives Phase I and Phase II proposals in response to SBIR and STTR topics that are published during specific solicitation periods throughout each fiscal year.
Proposals are evaluated against published evaluation criteria and selected for award. Awards are made pending completion of successful negotiations with the small businesses and availability of funds.
Leverages DoD SBIR/STTR BAA announcements, usually 3 per year.
- Phase I: Maximum award $167,500 (Base = $111,000; Option = $56,000); no more than 6 months in duration
- Phase II: Maximum award $1,100,000; up to 24 months in duration
- Phase III: No limitations to award dollar amount or duration (not awarded by SBIR program)
(more info on the SBIR and STTR programs and phases here)
- The goal of the dual-use SBIR program is to tap into the innovativeness and creativity of the small business community to help meet government R&D objectives. These small companies develop technologies, products, and services which they can then commercialize through sales in the private sector or back to the government.
- The Army participates with the Navy, Air Force, Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), Missile Defense Agency (MDA), National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the Chemical Biological Defense Program under the overall DoD SBIR program; however, the Army program is autonomous in that it seeks to support Army-specific goals within the framework of the DoD SBIR program.
How to engage: Army SBIR/STTR page and SBIR/STTR opportunities are posted to the Defense SBIR/STTR Innovation Portal (DSIP). Army Application Lab (AAL) SBIR topics here.
Non-DoD Innovation Organizations
IQT invests in commercially-focused, venture capital-backed startups to identify and adapt “ready-soon” technology: off-the-shelf products that can be modified, tested, and delivered for use to the intelligence and defense community within 6 to 36 months. IQT’s partners include the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, and Department of Defense, and others in the intelligence and defense communities.
IQT works side-by-side with the venture capital community to identify cutting-edge technology that has the potential for commercial success and the potential for high national security impact.
- IQT identifies startups with the potential for high impact on national security and works closely with them to deliver new capabilities that our customers need to boost their technological edge.
- IQT investments typically range from $500,000 – $3 million, and are paired with a development agreement in which IQT and the company work together to adapt the technology to government customers’ needs. If the pilot of the technology goes well, government customers can buy the product directly from the company.
IQT’s tech team vets each technology against the requirements of our partners’ mission capability needs, then compares alternative approaches and rigorously validates technical claims. Simultaneously, the investments team gauges the potential for long-term success by evaluating each company’s commercial potential, business plan, and management team.
Once an investment is made, IQT works with the company and the partner agencies to complete a work program and facilitate solution delivery. Our process strives to ensure that portfolio companies deliver on their technical promise, and that they will continue to support and enhance their products for years to come.
The significant advantages of IQT’s model include:
- Rapid product development
- Valuable product enhancements
- Lower initial and long-term costs to the national security community
- Data analytics
- AI/Machine Learning
- Ubiquitous Computing
- IT solutions
- Commercial Space
IQT Labs explores technology opportunities and solutions to problems that have yet to be discovered. By open sourcing our data, code, and research findings, we provide insights and technology beyond the startup for national security and the common good.
How to engage: IQT reviews technology companies via an electronic submission process found here.
Challenge.gov is a web platform that assists federal agencies with inviting ideas and solutions directly from the public, or “crowdsourcing” and is the official hub for prize competitions and challenges across all federal government. Managed by the General Services Administration (GSA).
Challenge.gov enables the U.S. government to engage citizen-solvers in prize competitions for top ideas and concepts as well as breakthrough software, scientific, and technology solutions that help achieve their agency missions.
Challenges can generally be categorized into one of these seven types. These are broadly defined as the types of activities or outcomes that will be worked on or produced in your challenge.
How to engage: Challenges from across the federal government are posted to challenge.gov.