WBIs SBIR Summit Educates, Enlightens and Highlights Businesses for Air Force Engagement

17.06.21 12:20 PM By Jennie Hempstead

Written by: Laura Dempsey

Wright Brothers Institute hosted a SBIR Summit May 10, 2021, providing a public forum for small businesses to pitch their emerging technology and an opportunity to connect with Air Force Research Laboratory evaluators, decision makers and subject matter experts. In all, 29 technologies were represented, with $30 million in funding opportunity available.


This virtual event kicked off with a keynote by Dr. Jason Rathje, Director of AFVentures. He was followed by Dr. Russell Kurtz, Chief Engineer of AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. Both men stressed the importance of small business to Air Force success, underscoring Air Force commitment to connecting, working with, and nurturing the success of small businesses.


Dr. Rathje explained AFVentures’ venture capital approach and again spotlighted the organization’s key line of effort to leverage commercial technology to the warfighter.


A panel of experts from the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate was able to explain the evaluation process to those in attendance, demystifying what is often a complicated process. Master of Ceremonies Tara Taylor, WBI’s SBIR Ventures Manager, lobbed questions from the audience to the panel members, who were generous with their information – except when they couldn’t comment! – and clear in their explanations.


The first set of small businesses to pitch to the crowd was focused on Additive Manufacturing, with eight companies presenting their pre-recorded pitches. The afternoon featured pitches on Sustainment, Robotics, Advanced Tech for Affordable, Bonded Aircraft Structures, and Agile, Low-cost Technology. 


The audience also heard from investors and the Air Force Material Command Business Program Panel, all of whom focused on how interested small businesses could find ways and opportunities to work with the Air Force to the benefit of both. 


A poll of the more than 240 attendees revealed that WBI’s SBIR Summit left them more prepared and more comfortable pitching to the Department of Defense and Air Force Subject Matter Experts.


This “open” pitch day came on the heels of a closed pitch day, held 30 April 2021. This event was used to make final assessments for the Advanced Manufacturing and Sustainment Pitch Day SBIR topic under the 21.1 solicitation. While that solicitation was in pre-release, WBI arranged a collider event to educate would-be proposing companies on Air Force needs for that specific topic. They received 139 proposals, from which 29 companies were selected for the closed pitch.


In total, WBI planned and executed three key events with the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate in relation to the 21.1 solicitation: An educational collider; a closed pitch day; and an open pitch day.


Jeremy Gratsch, who led the team from the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, had this to say about WBI’s involvement: : “They’ve been nothing less than excellent and we would have been ‘lost in the sauce ‘without their support in running virtual events.


“I was with the team over at 444 during our closed pitch day and to see (WBI) run it via zoom, from running separate rooms for each pitch with a waiting room as well to ensure only the people who needed to view the pitches were let in, to moderating the pitches in terms of time and keeping everything on track, was quite impressive. And they did this with several pitches happening simultaneously.


“Other Air Force organizations who are doing pitch day topics are asking me how we did it, because they were impressed with our pitch day. That’s a true testament to the work of the WBI team.”