Air Force courts small business innovators

The service is seeking participants for a New York City "pitch day."

The U.S. Air Force is moving forward with its plan to tap small businesses to solve its tech problems, and began accepting applications for its inaugural "Pitch Day" Jan. 8.

Selected participants will be chosen to present at the Pitch Day event in New York City, with winners getting deals on the spot.

Competitors will be allowed to submit proposals for three topic areas: command, control, communications, intelligence, and networks; digital technology investments; and battlefield air operations systems technologies.

"The hope is that we learn some lessons and improve it and do it even bigger next time," expanding the topic areas, Maj. Gen. Patrick Higby, director, DevOps and Lethality, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said following a presentation at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's small business event Jan. 8.

"We've always had outreach with small business… but I think there's more intellectual prowess out there that we're not leveraging today," Higby said. It's unclear how many contracts will be awarded or how many proposals will make it to the final round. But what is certain is the dedication to trying new things outside of traditional acquisition bureaucracy even if they fail.

The Air Force plans to use government purchase cards for these small business awards.

Air Force acquisition head, Dr. Will Roper said in September that the goal would be for 60 to 80 percent of the participants to walk out with contract that day. The Air Force has since put on Startup Days in the run up to the March Pitch Day event.

"The benefit is huge because it finally pulls startups into orbit surrounding our program offices," Roper said, "Even if round one their product isn't ready, they're aware of us as an angel investor. We're not trying to have them work for the government, we just want their products that make sense for us."

About $40 million has been set aside to support Phase I and Phase II awards. Individual Phase 1 awards will go up to $150,000, an Air Force spokesperson said via email. Submissions will be accepted through Feb. 6.

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