Jessica Casserly, 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs, HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – With a tested model in place, organizers of The U.S. Air Force Lab with MassChallenge program, a two-year pilot project designed to increase non-traditional participation in Small Business Innovative Research program opportunities, announced its second cohort March 30.
Atomic-6, BoatBox Technologies, CorePower Magnetics, Inergy, Kinnami Software, Measure Global, OxbyEl Technologies, Particle.One, Rhoman Aerospace, and Sentenai Inc. make up the second group to benefit from the specialized mentorship and support offered by MassChallenge and Air Force experts.
Joe Bradley, director of the Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapons Systems and of Engineering and Technical Management for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Hanscom, highlighted the vital role such partnerships play in helping his offices achieve the Air Force Chief of Staff’s initiative of ‘Accelerate Change or Lose.’
“Cyber resilience is a team sport,” Bradley said. “Our partnership with MassChallenge allows us to reach the non-traditional defense innovation base to gain insight into their capabilities and leverage their solutions for national security.”
The application and judging processes help ensure startups with the best odds of successfully matching with a Hanscom or Air Force challenge make it into the cohort.
“Startup companies selected for the Air Force Lab accelerator with MassChallenge have a high potential for transition, which helps bring novel technology to us faster,” said Steve Wert, program executive officer for Digital. “Going into the second iteration of Air Force Labs, we would love to see startups on the forefront of advancing our digital transformation.”
Maj. Gen. Michael Schmidt, PEO for the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks Directorate, agreed that innovative partnerships and approaches like this help his team meet their commitment to deliver capabilities to the warfighter at the “speed of relevance.”
“[This program] provides us multiple avenues and options to bring forward emerging technologies from high-performing companies after a thorough vetting by MassChallenge experts,” he said. “As we launch the next phase of Air Force Labs, C3I&N will focus on aligning the most innovative capabilities in industry with our portfolio’s most pressing needs in order to quickly put these capabilities into the hands of operators.”
The pilot program proved successful in 2020 when all 10 of the participating startups completed the program by submitting a Phase II proposal with at least one memorandum of understanding from an interested Air Force program. Eighty percent of the cohort was selected for a Phase II award and 60 percent of the cohort received funding.
“The focus of Air Force Labs is to increase the rate of startups transitioning from a Phase I SBIR to a Phase II from the Air Force,” said Cait Brumme, senior vice president of MassChallenge Early Stage. “In our inaugural program, we saw 60 percent of companies meet this milestone, sign for, and receive funding for a Phase II award. This is further validation of the impact that public-private collaborations have on the development of groundbreaking technologies.”
SimX, Inc. is just one of six startups from the original cohort that went on to receive Phase II SBIR funds.
“We were fortunate that our 20.1 Phase II SBIR was selected for award, thanks, in part, to our participation with The U.S. Air Force Lab with MassChallenge program,” said Karthik Sarma, co-founder and chief technology officer for SimX, Inc.
Sarma and his team are working with the 24th Special Operations Wing to develop a virtual reality medical simulation training curriculum, which will give the wing’s Special Tactics Airmen, Special Operations Surgical Teams and medical personnel an opportunity to run through scenarios designed to reinforce medical techniques, tactics and protocols.
“The VALOR program is helping to increase overall medical capability and potentially improve survival rates in combat casualties,” said Col. John Dorsch, wing surgeon of the 24 SOW, and medical director of the Air Force’s Pararescue career field. “Expanding and innovating capabilities is critical for ensuring the highest level austere medical care is provided by our special operators and medical personnel.”
Startups in the new cohort hope to replicate the successes of collaborative partnerships like the one shared by the 24 SOW and SimX, Inc.
“As a dual-use venture, we were keen on the program’s ability to offer agile startups a chance to work directly with Air Force innovation teams,” said Sujeesh Krishnan, CEO at Kinnami. “We hope to build the right relationships […] to identify where the most urgent need is for our technology.”
Brumme said evidence-based accelerators like this one are important for startups like Kinnami, since data shows only about 15 percent of all Phase 1 awardees go on to receive Phase II funding.
“MassChallenge Air Force Labs will continue to support dual-use ventures finding their perfect customer within the Air Force and support the Air Force in finding ventures that address essential challenges,” she said.
The second iteration of the program will formally kick off April 5. To learn more about the U.S. Air Force Lab with MassChallenge partnership, visit http://apply.masschallenge.org/en/usaf.