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Partnership expansion offers unprecedented support for Phase I SBIR awardees

Capt. Amanda Rebhi, Program Executive Office for Digital commander's action group chief and innovation director, participates in virtual judging for The U.S. Air Force Lab with MassChallenge from her home in Massachusetts April 8.

Capt. Amanda Rebhi, Program Executive Office for Digital commander's action group chief and innovation director, participates in virtual judging for The U.S. Air Force Lab with MassChallenge from her home in Massachusetts April 8. The two-year pilot project is designed to increase non-traditional participation in Small Business Innovation Research program opportunities. (Courtesy photo)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – A recently-signed contract between two Hanscom directorates, the Air Force Research Laboratory and MassChallenge, a network of zero-equity startup accelerators, offers unique support for innovative startups with the potential to solve national security challenges.

The two-year pilot project is designed to increase non-traditional participation in Small Business Innovation Research program opportunities. The Air Force and MassChallenge will select 10 startups from a highly competitive pool of 65 to participate in The U.S. Air Force Lab with MassChallenge, an initiative that will help de-risk and grow cutting edge technologies and startups that are addressing national security challenges.

More than 30 industry experts and established entrepreneurs selected by MassChallenge will virtually judge the competition, basing their final decisions on each startup’s potential to innovate at speed and tackle challenges related to national security.

“When startups receive the right support at the right time, they can have a transformative impact on the world,” said Siobhan Dullea, CEO of MassChallenge. “With MassChallenge’s decade of experience connecting startups to the critical resources and tools they need to be successful, we are proud to deepen our partnership with the Air Force Research Lab, [Program Executive Officer] Digital, PEO for Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks, and the Griffiss Institute to help de-risk and grow the next generation of national security startups.”

Once the virtual judging is completed, the selected cohort will move into an incubation phase in which they’ll refine their products and business models. MassChallenge will provide this exclusive group of SBIR Phase I-awarded startups with essential, customized resources and connections, with the goal of helping them transition to their Phase II awards at a higher rate.

The partnership will also grow the Banshee program and provide training and engagement opportunities for Airmen and entrepreneurs.

Steve Wert, PEO Digital, said he’s excited to take Hanscom’s partnership with MassChallenge to the next level.

“The Phase I SBIR accelerator program will serve as an excellent experiment in deliberate startup development, targeting the companies that the Air Force has already awarded to work with program offices on valid warfighter problem sets,” he said. “We will be able to focus on delivering novel technologies to the field, while the small businesses we work with benefit from the mentorship and instruction from this accelerator program to grow their commercial outreach, dual-use technology, and venture connection.”

Hanscom directorates and MassChallenge have worked collaboratively since 2017 and the resulting opportunities have led to tangible mission enhancement for the Air Force.

“The MassChallenge program allows us to gain access to the latest technologies from innovative small businesses, who are traditionally on the cutting edge of technology,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Schmidt, PEO for C3I&N. “Understanding and maturing these capabilities now allows for them to be rapidly inserted into programs and platforms in the future. Specifically, areas such as artificial intelligence, machine to machine interfacing, and machine learning will be critical to enabling force multipliers for our warfighting customers.”

This pilot project, an effort originating within the Digital Directorate, is contracted through the Griffiss Institute and funded by AFRL, the Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapons Systems, and C3I&N.

Joe Bradley, director of CROWS and associate director of engineering and technical management at Hanscom, said this expenditure of funds allows CROWS to open its aperture and strengthen the defense innovation base.

“Our CROWS investment will allow us to reach non-traditional partners and leverage solutions to improve the cyber resilience of weapon systems,” said Bradley. “The CROWS investment has already been used to evaluate products from two non-traditional companies that show promise to deliver improved resiliency at an Air Force and Department of Defense enterprise level across air, space and cyberspace platforms, among others.”

Charlie Benway, MITRE portfolio director and director of the Massachusetts Innovation Bridge, an organization designed to connect innovative state businesses and federal agencies to solve national challenges, also sees the partnership as a huge step in developing the defense innovation base and addressing the mission challenges of Hanscom’s customers.

“We are in a global power competition and Hanscom Airmen are playing an important role,” Benway said. “In order to achieve competitive advantage over peer adversaries in current and future competition and conflicts, the National Defense Strategy emphasizes the need for delivering at the speed of relevance, driving innovation and strengthening partnerships. It is incredible to witness first-hand Hanscom leadership addressing NDS strategic objectives locally with creativity and agility.”

To learn more about the U.S. Air Force Lab with MassChallenge partnership, visit http://apply.masschallenge.org/en/usaf.