February 13, 2020

Sometimes the best way to drive innovation in a large organization isn’t to build something new, but to find ways to maximize existing tools. In 2019, BMNT’s efforts helped both AFWERX and the Office of Naval Research amplify an existing pathway to transition technologies into their organizations.


Both the US Air Force and the US Navy and Marine Corps channel their mission-driven entrepreneurial efforts through AFWERX and ONR respectively. Both organizations have begun transforming their enterprises by adopting the H4X® Innovation Pipeline to structure and scale their innovation efforts. Using this end-to-end process has helped them ensure a consistent source of innovation opportunities, and has provided principles by which to articulate and prioritize problems, and develop and test solutions. The pipeline's framework for quickly and repeatedly investing in and adopting those validated solutions into day-to-day operations is what transforms organizations.


In 2019, AFWERX and ONR used their respective pipelines to find and prioritize critical challenges their organizations were facing. We then helped them identify and invest in those solutions and developed plans to transition them for everyday use within their organizations. As a result:

  • AFWERX brokered 11 successful commercial contracts totaling $8.6M, solving seven critical problems across four Air Force bases (AFB) in just six months. 
  • ONR integrated commercial solutions from over 90 vendors to solve critical challenges for the US Navy, cumulatively saving over three years of work in identifying, building, testing, and adopting homegrown solutions into daily operations.


Here’s how we helped them do it. 


First, we looked to optimize existing mechanisms for investing in solutions.  The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is a highly competitive, awards-based program developed to provide funding for domestic small businesses to meet Federal research and development needs. With a few offerings each year, SBIR publishes solicitation topics that contain innovation opportunities and opens a window for small businesses to submit proposals to these topics. At the close of each window, the program evaluates the proposals and provides funding to companies based on technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of their submissions. 


Both organizations had previously used SBIR to fund their solutions but noticed several “barriers to entry” for solution providers that made the program inefficient. They began adapting the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program through AFWERX’s “open innovation special topics” solicitation and the U.S. Navy’s Accelerated Delivery and Acquisition of Prototype Technologies pilot. Both take an improved approach to funding awards, accelerating decision timelines, and minimizing application requirements and proposal processes. 


To further maximize the utility of SBIR, we merely needed to grease the wheel, not reinvent it. BMNT curated problems to refine each organization’s SBIR solicitations then vetted and engaged solution providers to connect their solutions to the relevant SBIR topics.

Here are some preliminary results of BMNT’s engagement:


1. Sitscape developed a solution that could help an Air Force operations center improve mission planning for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) flights, preventing future mission failure and greatly reducing time spent tracking flights. 

  • The ops center and AFWERX awarded Sitscape a $1.5M SBIR contract in three months – conservatively four times faster than traditional contracting processes.

2. Dash Systems and Elroy Air developed solutions to help the Air Force improve their airdrop missions when recovering personnel from uncertain or hostile environments.

  • $3.75M total was awarded cumulatively through two SBIR phases for this work

3. For the first 2020 SBIR offering, we conducted targeted outreach to over 500 potential applicants for topics related to improving the rate of scheduled fleet maintenance, from 40%, for the US Navy’s 293 ships at Navy depots and shipyards. 

  • Funding will be awarded in February 2020
  • Awarded solutions will improve fleet readiness, decreasing risk to sailors and marines without the support of their full fleet 


Still, investing in the right technologies is not enough to solve a critical problem. Also needed is a way to quickly transition those technologies for everyday use into an organization. 


BMNT will connect the identified technologies to key stakeholders whose acquisition programs would be logical homes for the solutions. Engaging the keepers of the keys to the program kingdom will speed the transition process and ensure the solutions get into the hands of those who need it most – the mission-driven workforce – rather than getting caught up in the lengthy DoD acquisition process.


Thanks to the great work of their mission-driven entrepreneurs, ONR and AFWERX continue to transform their enterprises and anticipate an increasing number of solutions being ready for investment and implementation in 2020. Powered by H4X®, both organizations are prepared to build, invest in, and adopt solutions, demonstrating a foundational principle of the Innovation Pipeline: Aligning a curated problem to relevant technology, an applicable funding mechanism, and a plan for adoption accelerates mission achievement.