Connecting AFRL to the AFWERX Fusion Xperience

22.09.18 06:49 PM By Jennie Hempstead

“Don’t wait for us. Get after this.”
Secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson’s words at June 2018 launch of AFWERX in Austin, Texas excited the crowd of innovators, entrepreneurs and politicians. The Air Force wants technology at the speed of business! Go fast! It’s the very reason that AFWERX was created. But moving at the speed of business is contrary to the DoD culture of bureaucracy and red tape. How does the Air Force Research Laboratory, with it’s portfolio of game-changing, early-stage technology collaborate with accelerators like AFWERX to get that technology to the warfighter, faster?

Getting After This
WBI began looking at ways to connect AFRL scientists and engineers to the AFWERX Fusion Xperience. This open innovation challenge began with idea submission, followed by online voting. The field was narrowed to 50-100 ideas, and those participants were invited to display their technology in Las Vegas during the Open Challenge Fusion Event on 20 June. 10 winners would be selected to compete for startup funding, in the $150,000 range.
When registration opened on April 24, participants from all walks of life were encouraged to submit ideas that would address different site security contexts: mobile, temporary and fixed. WBI’s Open Innovation Director, Bob Lee knew that AFRL had applicable technologies that would be ideal for this challenge. A grass roots, collaborative effort between WBI and AFRL/SB Strategist Ryan Helbach began to take shape. Individual conversations helped inform AFRL employees of the potential advantages, deadlines and logistics of participation. On top of encouraging participation, WBI spread the word about the online voting process, highlighting AFRL technologies and encouraging people to vote.

AFRL Sweetens the Deal
“I think the secretary is challenging us to think differently, and you don’t get this opportunity very often, from a leadership level.” AFRL Executive Director, Jack Blackhurst saw an opportunity to bring AFRL technology to the AFWERX Challenge. Blackhurst promised $500,000 for every AFRL technology selected for the Open Challenge Fusion Event in Las Vegas.

A combination of significant incentives from AFRL leadership, one-on-one conversations, guidance through the registration process and a marketing push to increase exposure produced some exciting results. Three AFRL technologies were selected following the 20 June Open Challenge Event and two went on the final round on 17 July. As AFRL looks for new ways to connect to accelerators like AFWERX, WBI will help position them for success.