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PEO Digital encourages junior workforce to Pitch-IN

Allie Townsend, contract specialist for the Distributed Common Ground System and Extended Tether Program, speaks to Steve Wert, program executive officer for Digital, while Victor Kogan, logistics management specialist in the Space, Aerial & Nuclear Networks Division, looks on during the Pitch-IN event held at the base theater, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., Oct. 2.

Allie Townsend, contract specialist for the Distributed Common Ground System and Extended Tether Program, speaks to Steve Wert, program executive officer for Digital, while Victor Kogan, logistics management specialist in the Space, Aerial & Nuclear Networks Division, looks on during the Pitch-IN event held at the base theater, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., Oct. 2. The event provided an opportunity for Digital personnel to pitch their ideas for improving current acquisition approaches, processes and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Maki)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. - Hanscom’s Digital Directorate hosted two innovation-focused events for their junior workforce here and in Boston Oct. 2 and 3.

The first event, Pitch-IN, provided an opportunity for Digital personnel to pitch their ideas for improving current acquisition approaches, processes and procedures.

“Dr. Roper recently asked all of the Air Force program executive officers to do these Pitch-IN events and we leaped ahead and started putting this together,” said Steven Wert, program executive officer for Digital.

He saw Roper’s challenge as a way to directly engage every level of the directorate.

“We’re looking for innovation anywhere and everywhere,” Wert said. “We’re looking both outside and internal to the organization. We’re also doing this to make sure that ideas get from the bottom of the organization to the top of the organization without being stomped out on that journey.”

The submission process was open from Aug. 9 to 30 and Wert received 39 submissions from Digital’s junior workforce. After personally reviewing each proposal, he authorized a total of nine individuals and teams to move ahead with their innovations and selected 12 others to pitch their ideas at Hanscom’s first Pitch-IN event.

“I think a big draw to this was that Mr. Wert was actually going to review every single application that was submitted,” said Abbey Kosiba, contract specialist in the Theater Battle Control Division. “It really goes to show how interested he is in this and how dedicated he is to it.”

Kosiba and her teammate Josh Naim, a contracting officer for Detachment 12, pitched their challenge/prize-based acquisition idea to Wert, Maj. Gen. Michael Schmidt, program executive office for Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks, Scott Hardiman, deputy director for the Nuclear Command, Control and Communications Integration Directorate, and Col. Chad Ellsworth, 66th Air Base Group commander, at the Pitch-IN event.

Panelists provided the presenters with feedback and a path for improving and moving ahead with their proposals.

The second event, an Innovation Day highlighting various Boston-based accelerators, offered participants an opportunity to learn from and exchange ideas with entrepreneurs outside of the government.

In addition to touring MIT’s Beaver Works and Innovation and Design Building facilities in Boston, some members of the Digital team also pitched their ideas to startups from MassChallenge’s Safety and Security Track.

MassChallenge, a not-for-profit organization supporting entrepreneurship, partnered with the Digital Directorate, the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorate, the National Security Innovation Network, and industry partners earlier this year to host the inaugural Safety and Security Track. The program removes traditional barriers to connect the defense community with early stage dual-use startups and promote rapid engagement.

“This [partnership] has opened up a completely new world for us,” said Christian Melton, senior partnerships manager for MassChallenge Boston. “It’s given our startups the opportunity to find connections and really grow their relationships with the U.S. government. It’s allowed them to develop a genuine interest in the opportunities and challenges that the Air Force is facing, while also supporting our Airmen in their missions.”

The Innovation Day visit capitalized on the synergy between MassChallenge and Hanscom’s directorates.

“This event gives our entrepreneurs an opportunity to meet some of Hanscom’s entrepreneurs, and hopefully they get some productive feedback and guidance for pitching,” Melton said.

Overall, the events left Digital junior workforce participants like Allie Townsend, contract specialist for the Distributed Common Ground System and Extended Tether Program, energized about the future of Air Force acquisition.

“As junior members, we’re the ones who are going to be future leaders, so I think that it’s really good to make our voice heard,” she said. “There are a lot of ideas out there, so the more opportunities there are to make our voices heard the better.”