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Spark Tank 2021 encourages leadership to support Airmen ideas

Spark Tank offers the opportunity to get their ideas in front of key enabling agencies that can share expertise and resources such as funding or personnel for the projects being presented and demonstrate pathways for intrepreneurs to make their initiatives successful.

Master Sgt. Justin Bauer from the 355th Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. was named the winner of the Spark Tank 2021 competition, Feb. 26, 2021. Bauer's innovative design method for C-130 Hercules wheel repair was selected as the winner of the capstone innovation campaign. (AFWERX courtesy graphic)

ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) -- Spark Tank, a collaboration between AFWERX and Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, Management, is now accepting submissions for the 2021 campaign from July 1 to October 16.

The annual campaign is designed to spur and empower innovative ideas from Airmen to further strengthen Air Force culture and capabilities.

“Empowerment breeds success,” said Lauren Knausenberger, Spark Tank director. “We know that if our Air Force leaders demonstrate their support, our Airmen’s desire to share their ideas and innovations would spread like wildfire across the Air Force.”

To kick off the campaign, Total Force Airmen are encouraged to submit their ideas on the Airmen Powered by Innovation crowdsourcing platform where teams from their major command will review them and select two semi-finalists, each to advance to a board run by Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen W. Wilson. Two wildcard submissions will also be selected to progress to the board.

The selection process will look at the needs for specific capabilities as well as concerns of safety, policy, Air Force-wide implementation, technical feasibility and scalability.

Non-finalist submissions will be transferred to the API open-call campaign and partnered with collaboration coaches to further develop their projects.

Following the board, six finalists will be selected to visit AFWERX Vegas for pitch coaching and innovation training before presenting on-stage at the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in 2021.

“While we only select six finalists to progress to the Spark Tank final stage, we aim for all Airmen who participate in the campaign to gain something from the experience,” said Maj. Alisha Temples, Spark Tank deputy. “Whether it’s discovering a pathway to share their ideas, learning creative ways to solve problems at their unit, or hearing the secretary of the Air Force encourage them not to accept the status quo--this is an event meant for all Airmen.”

Building on last year’s event, which drew more than 200 idea submissions and named two winners, Spark Tank is also looking to expand and improve its program to include more educational opportunities and pathways for leaders to empower Airmen at all levels of the organization.

As part of this effort, the wing and major command with the most number of ideas submitted by the end of the campaign will be recognized for mobilizing their organization to contribute to the Air Force's innovation mission.

By empowering Airmen to submit as many ideas as possible, the Air Force can begin to understand trends, identify pain points and challenge areas, and start connecting teams that may have similar interests and could benefit from combining efforts.

“Shifting a decades-in-the-making bureaucratic culture toward an agile and responsive problem-solving, improvement and innovation-focused culture will not happen overnight,” said William "Brou" Gautier, Air Force Continuous Process Improvement & Innovation Division chief. “While we’ve made great strides over the last few years with Spark Tank and Airmen Powered by Innovation efforts, we still have a long way to go. It will take active participation from our top leadership and every Airmen and Space professional to get us there.”

As part of this year’s campaign, AFWERX and SAF/MG will also be sharing educational material on how organizations can move beyond potential roadblocks and innovate, pulled from resources like the Innovation Handbook and the Four Phases of Innovation, as well as highlighting the experiences of previous Spark Tank participants.

To get started, head over to the API crowdsourcing platform to submit and share ideas, provide thoughts and feedback on submissions, and vote on the most promising solutions: https://usaf.ideascalegov.com/a/ideas/recent/campaigns/156

Follow AFWERX on social media for the latest campaign information: LinkedIn | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Medium | YouTube

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