Inside AIS3

Army Materiel Command Chief Gen. Dennis Via pins Mr. Wesley during the Army Innovation Summit 3.

The Army Innovation Summit 3 (AIS3) was hosted by the Army Materiel Command (AMC) to enhance collaboration with industry and foster a culture of innovation.

Mr. Kenyata Wesley, Acting Director of the Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP), spoke at AIS3 in Williamsburg, Va., on Aug. 17, 2016.

Mr. Wesley discussed DoD OSBP’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Rapid Innovation Fund (RIF) programs, which are designed to maximize opportunities for small businesses to deliver innovative technology and services that meet DoD’s needs.

Communicate with Industry

Mr. Wesley encouraged commanders and program managers to publicize their top-5 challenges and initiatives. “We’re sitting here at an Innovation Summit because we want great ideas brought to us. But we don’t want random ideas,” Mr. Wesley said. “If a small business or a scientist in academia knows what’s broken and where we’re trying to go, they can try to fix it.”

Leverage SBIR and RIF

With a $1.2 billion annual budget, DoD’s SBIR program is America’s largest provider of entrepreneurial seed funding for small businesses. SBIR has proven to be a low-risk, high-reward way for small businesses to develop ground-breaking technologies that contribute to U.S. military superiority and economic growth.

“SBIR is designed to develop process and technology improvements,” Mr. Wesley said. Small businesses submit proposals in response to agency requirements, as defined by topics contained in an agency solicitation. “The government picks the topics. Small businesses respond to the topics.”

“Budget cuts are not going away so we’ve got to do more with the money we have,” Mr. Wesley said. “We’re going to do that by utilizing investment programs, like SBIR.”

RIF is a competitive, merit-based program designed to accelerate the fielding of innovative technologies from small businesses into military systems or programs that meet critical national security needs. Annual funding for RIF ranges from $200 million to $600 million. “If you’re trying to get your Technology Readiness Level (TRL) from 4 to 7, RIF may be the way to do that,” Mr. Wesley said.

Find Your Target

“People often say, ‘DoD’s a big machine; it’s hard to find out who buys what,” Mr. Wesley said. “A lot of data — and it’s pretty accurate because we have to certify it every year — is available for free. You can search the Federal Procurement Data System by keyword and by NAICS code to find out exactly how DoD spent money and what was bought. So, if a service or product was bought in Rock Island, TACOM and Aberdeen, you can see it. This information helps you identify who will potentially buy your product or service.”

Buy Down Risk

Mr. Wesley urged small businesses to “buy down” a program manager’s risk. “Program managers are trying to figure out the best way to complete their missions with the least amount of risk possible,” Mr. Wesley said. “You buy down risk by being able to answer a program manager’s questions before they are asked,” Mr. Wesley said. Small businesses buy down risk by understanding how their service or product has a positive impact on a program manager’s “cost, schedule and performance,” he added.

DoD OSBP is creating a suite of data-analytics tools that will help Contracting Officers find capable small businesses. “But small businesses have got to understand something: It’s not our job to find you. It’s in our best interest to find you, but our job is to make sure that you have a fair opportunity to compete.” Mr. Wesley said.

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