ESC officials look to DOD 'Venture Catalyst' initiative|
by Chuck Paone
66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
5/14/2010 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass (AFNS) -- Electronic Systems Center officials here are working with a special Defense Department unit to help tackle some tough command and control and information-related challenges.
People in the Capabilities Integration Division, known best by its two-letter XR designation, are currently awaiting a list of companies that could help solve many of those challenges. This comes after teaming with experts in DeVenCI, the Defense Venture Catalyst Initiative, to host a 'needs conference' in April. As a result, they now are soliciting companies to respond to 18 specific areas put forth by Electronic Systems Center program managers.
DeVenCI officials will compile the list of companies and provide it, along with a brief description of the capabilities of each, to ESC by May 19.
The DeVenCI team is powered by 15 highly successful venture capital consultants, or VCCs, who represent some of the nation's top venture capital firms and work pro bono on this defense initiative. Seven of the 15 attended the ESC Needs Workshop, and the others were back-briefed.
The VCCs use their extensive knowledge of thousands of small- and medium-sized businesses, most of which are not traditional government vendors, to recommend many that could help solve stated problems. The recommended companies, along with other companies that self-nominated through FedBizOpps, are combined to create a list of firms with potential capabilities.
"This is a low- to no-cost way for ESC to look for potential solutions to some vexing problems and to seek out companies that we might otherwise never find, and vice versa," said Scott Hardiman, XR deputy director. He noted that it also helps meet a charge set by ESC Commander Lt. Gen. Ted Bowlds more than a year ago.
"I want ESC to execute a portion of its portfolio with a venture capital approach using an organic quick-reaction capability," the general stated in his 2009 Commander's Intent. General Bowlds reiterated the rationale underlying this concept in his 2010 Commander's Intent, saying: "I expect ESC to operate in an agile acquisition construct, identifying and utilizing key processes to rapidly deliver capability to meet end-user requirements."
DeVenCI offers ESC program managers and the XR team an organized, proven method for doing that.
Glenn Fogg, director of the Rapid Reaction Technology Office within the Office of the Defense Director of Research and Engineering, called the ESC workshop "a great success."
"We were able to identify 58 needs in 18 unique topic areas, and we expect to identify between 75 and 100 potential companies that can meet these needs," he said.
Once the company list is sent back to the center, XR officials, the program managers and various subject matter experts will act quickly to whittle it down to a manageable number representing those with the most promise. Officials expect that "down-select" to occur on May 26, just a week after receipt of the full list. After that, the selected companies will be given a chance to come brief ESC program managers about their capabilities during a mid-July solutions workshop.
Invited companies won't know exactly what ESC needs, said Adam Goobic of XR, who has coordinated much of the effort, noting that those needs might be sensitive.
"They'll only know that the Air Force is very interested in hearing about certain technologies they've developed," he said.
For the most part these are existing commercial technologies, which Air Force officials would look for the companies to tailor for their specific needs. Toward that end, DeVenCI provides some seed money for experimentation, though it helps if program managers can add some funds of their own.
Center officials will develop the specific acquisition approach and administer contracts for those experimentation efforts, Mr. Goobic said, even if all the money comes from DeVenCI.
"DeVenCI effectively works as a matchmaker, bringing us together with these companies," he said. "After that, it's up to us to build on the relationship and make use of the products to meet our needs."
He said that, when submitting their need statements, program managers asserted that they would be willing to "test drive" potential solutions if they could be provided. This would offer baseline information on which larger investments and acquisition decisions could be made.
Those solutions could range from relatively quick add-ons for existing programs to technologies that themselves are grown into programs of record someday. Generally, though, the DeVenCI model has been designed to address six-to-18-month needs, said John Belanger of MITRE Corp., a member of the XR team.
The bottom line is that it provides a relatively low-cost and low-risk way of finding innovative, quick-hit solutions, Mr. Hardiman said.
"Other than investing some time and some brain power, we really don't have to put much up to take advantage of this," he said. "When you consider the potential payoffs, it makes a whole lot of sense to utilize it."