HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – As the University of Massachusetts Lowell Research Institute prepares for a late August 2020 opening of its Northstar campus, a non-profit Department of Defense technology hub, in Lincoln, Mass., Hanscom acquisition leaders are looking forward to even more local innovation partnership.
The Northstar campus will offer support for emerging defense-industry startups, including workspace designed to facilitate collaboration between small companies, industry, government officials and educators.
Maj. Gen. Michael Schmidt, program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks, said UMLRI is already bringing value to Air Force mission sets.
“When this new Northstar campus facility opens, we can use our existing Education Partnership Agreement to better access the unique convening power, research expertise and small business focus the university has,” he said.
As it comes on line, the new Northstar campus will join a growing constellation of assets providing cutting-edge technology partnership opportunities for Hanscom. The nearby Georgia Tech Research Institute field office, Northeastern University’s Kostas Research Institute, business accelerators like Techstars and MassChallenge, tech consortia such as MassRobotics, the Massachusetts Innovation Bridge and myriad other organizations all help base program managers and engineers tap into new technologies.
“These partnerships are very intentional efforts to expose our people to the world of modern commercial startups and accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies in our systems,” said Steven Wert, program executive officer Digital. “Whether it’s collocating part of our counter small unmanned aircraft systems team at Northeastern’s Kostas Research Institute or partnering with MassChallenge in new ways, our objective is to focus on innovation, speed and technology.”
One such partnership helping to support the system engineering process is Hanscom’s collaboration with GTRI, a DoD-sponsored, university-affiliated research center.
“We assist with everything from concept development through prototyping, including test and evaluation,” said John LoBue, Strategic Program Development lead and site manager for GTRI. “We’re working on many Digital and C3I&N programs and, as a result of our expanding role at Hanscom, we’ve established a local field office just outside the base.”
Business accelerators like Techstars also have strong relationships with Hanscom, resulting in tangible mission support for the Air Force.
“There are three companies from my cohorts that are actively engaged right now,” said Warren Katz, managing director of the Air Force Accelerator powered by Techstars. “AirShare Systems Inc., SICDrone and URSA Inc. were introduced to Hanscom personnel through Techstars and are now doing work for various programs.”
Rick Whittaker, co-founder and CEO of AirShare Systems Inc., said the partnership between Hanscom and Techstars is “truly an amazing combination.”
“This collaboration has been instrumental in the advancement of our company and technology,” he said.
Charlie Benway, director of the Massachusetts Innovation Bridge, an organization designed to connect innovative state businesses and federal agencies to solve national challenges, said trust and shared experiences are key to building these successful partnerships.
“Sustainable collaborations like the ones we’ve built with Hanscom rely on our ability to translate between federal agencies and startups and then align their interests,” he said. “We’re making viable connections, because we understand the Air Force and Hanscom missions and the startup ecosystem.”
Joyce Sidopoulos, vice president of Community & Programs and co-founder of MassRobotics, an innovation hub and startup cluster focused on the robotics community, agreed that teaching the military and innovation communities about each other’s resources is crucial.
“It’s important to educate our startups about potential revenue and customers in the DoD space by showing them that their solutions may solve multiple challenges for a variety of customers,” she said.
Cultivating relationships with tech consortia like MassRobotics also helps the defense community keep pace with changes in technology.
“We must provide our warfighters the most up-to-date, cutting-edge technology to not only keep them ahead of our adversaries, but more importantly, to keep them safe,” said Tom Ryden, executive director of MassRobotics.
The work being done by Hanscom’s many innovation partners is starting to take hold and some, like Benway, see significant changes within the Air Force acquisition culture when it comes to embracing collaborative efforts with innovation experts and startups.
“In some respects, Hanscom is leading the way for the Air Force with partnerships like The U.S. Air Force Lab with MassChallenge and the MassChallenge Safety and Security Track,” he said. “We’re seeing this Massachusetts model being exported to other regions and geographically separated units.”