APEX conducts workshops with university partners during release periods. The workshops start at a 30,000-foot level to introduce the U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) / Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program to anyone not familiar with it. From there, we drill down to ground level to discuss what it is like to go through a proposal for Phase I and the things one should know. In addition, we take a more detailed look at the current pre-solicitation to address whatever the current technology focus is or to address changes in instructions. We split the workshops so that those who are already familiar with U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR can skip the first half and just attend the in-depth review of the current solicitation. We also include local SBIR / STTR companies and support, such as the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) in your area so people know who they can count on locally for assistance.
While working with the university partner, we try to keep these workshops highly targeted to researchers with an interest and capability to work on technologies of interest to the U.S. Air Force. A natural participant in our work with universities is the university spinout. Those firms have a built-in link with the university that is great for U.S. Air Force STTR applications. We are building a network of universities and small businesses / spinouts in the orbit of those universities. As that network grows, we will establish a more formal way of matchmaking a university researcher to company partner for U.S. Air Force STTR proposals. Right now, we can use our current networks with assistance from APEX data analytics to help a university researcher find an agreeable partner. We can also work with technology transfer or the commercialization function of the university to understand the process of obtaining the necessary agreements between the university and the small business in order to participate in the U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR program.
During proposal periods, we help navigate the process of submitting a proposal. Often, we will set up online sessions to help with finding the right set of instructions and answering any questions regarding the rules and strategies with putting together the best proposal. We won’t write a proposal; however, we can provide helpful insight to better the offering. After a Phase I award is achieved, we engage with teams with which we assisted on a regular basis to help them with making connections in their effort to obtain a Memorandum of Understanding. We look at the services for our university researchers as an ongoing relationship. U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR is just the first step. We stay in touch as new opportunities arise for which they seem to be a good fit.
All Partnership Intermediary Agreements (PIAs) are non-profits chartered by a state or local government, are contracted by a federal lab or agency, work specifically with small businesses and / or universities and receive federal funding reserved for technology transfer activities. Most PIAs have a primary focus on industry, technology transfer of government intellectual property to industry and have a local affiliation with a laboratory or agency. Most PIAs have an outbound flow from a single lab into the innovation ecosystem, while APEX has inbound flow into deployed systems across the whole innovation ecosystem. The APEX PIA is, therefore, different because its primary focus is academia: it facilitates the technology transfer of university intellectual property to industry to U.S. Air Force systems. Furthermore, APEX has a U.S. Air Force-wide affiliation and does not inherently support any one Air Force Research Laboratory geographic location or Air Force Research Laboratory Directorate. APEX accelerates and diversifies the transition pipeline of new technologies from academia to the airman.
We understand that getting familiar with how the Department of Defense, Department of Air Force, U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR program, and small businesses and university partners operate and collaborate can be daunting. To ease your understanding of this landscape, APEX is designing a comprehensive online curriculum to understand each of these entities and how they work together. The initial tranche of over 20 videos that focus on Getting to Phase One in the U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR process is scheduled for release by December 31, 2020. APEX will advertise how to access these free resources, check your knowledge and understanding and get prepared for moving into learning activities targeting Phase II, Phase III and beyond. When completed, the curriculum will provide an opportunity for users to be certified in the U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR process. Also, modules will be developed such that users can find out more about a specific topic, such as technology transfer, intellectual property, preparing for Pitch Day, etc., of interest on a 24/7 basis.
As a Partnership Intermediary Agreement (PIA) organization, APEX’s funding comes from the U.S. Air Force. Therefore, all of APEX’s services are free-of-charge to entrepreneurs, researchers and research universities, including: U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR process navigation; mapping technologies that can be commercialized to fit the needs of the U.S. Air Force; and connecting universities, companies and government organizations with the U.S. Air Force to support bridging the recognizable gap between these organizations and to help build manufacturing ecosystems across the U.S.
- Help with understanding solicitations and requirements
- Effective five-page or 15-page write-up / technical volume training
- Effective slide decks for U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR proposals training
- Review documents and provide general feedback
- Guide you through the process
- Alert you to dynamic changes
- Help you understand the U.S. Air Force
- Suggest potential U.S. Air Force contacts and locations
- We will not write your proposal (including slides or narrative)
- You remain responsible for tracking requirements of and any changes to solicitations
- We cannot guarantee connecting you with any contacts within the U.S. Air Force
- Working with APEX does not guarantee an award
APEX often offers “one to many” events and briefings to inform entrepreneurs, researchers and others on aspects of the U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR program. Currently, we periodically offer the following:
- Foundational briefings on understanding the SBIR / STTR program in general, specifics to the U.S. Air Force program and guidelines for preparing any U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR proposal
- Solicitation-focused briefings in concert with pre-release announcement of specific Department of Defense and U.S. Air Force solicitations
- Briefings on best practices within solicitation periods to enable and inform potential applicants
94 PTACs – with over 300 local offices – form a nationwide network of dedicated procurement professionals working to help local businesses compete successfully in the government marketplace. PTACs are expert in helping you get registered on the System for Award Management (SAM), including CAGE codes and DUNS numbers, without which your U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR proposal will not be considered. These services are essential and not something that APEX handles in detail. As a result, APEX is highly collaborative with PTACs and recommends connecting with your local PTAC for all questions, issues or needs for help with registrations.
APEX has a growing set of relationships with universities across the U.S. who can partner with you on SBIR / STTR proposals. We can recommend universities whose research specialties project to help your company develop your technology and solutions. APEX continues to add programs and efforts focused on connecting entrepreneurs and research universities.
APEX strives to maintain relationships with Entrepreneurial Development Organizations (EDOs) across the U.S. These organizations typically provide general entrepreneurial support and are seldom focused specifically on U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR. As a result, APEX services are highly complementary to theirs. We can recommend an EDO to you when we know them. If we don’t, they are typically high-profile organizations in most metro areas and are easy to find.
APEX uses a three-pronged strategy designed to maximize the human dynamics of Innovation.
- Identify and Develop: We use the Innovation Strengths Preference Indicator® (ISPI™) instrument, which characterizes a person’s mental models and their innovative preferences to develop the innovative strengths of everyone in the organization. This characterization allows practitioners and facilitators to strategically form different types of teams based on these preferences. The ISPI is a proven instrument for identifying innovation preferences and has been used in industry and government to form high performing teams for technology development and for workforce development by placing people in situations and circumstances that best fit their innovative preferences.
- Design and Build: APEX has built a suite of capabilities that can be used to educate and engage the workforce to be more innovative and collaborative with peers and customers. Our Blue Sky Workshops are designed to help customers ideate around their needs for planning and taking more risk. Our Innovative Challenge programs take concepts generated in a Blue Sky Workshop or by some other means and engage a diverse ecosystem of innovators and colleagues that may also include academia and small / large businesses to mature concepts through prototyping and experimentation.
- Strengthen: The third, very important step to cultivating a more innovative organization is to strengthen or feed the engagement made in earlier steps. A couple of ways to strengthen the innovation culture is to select and train innovation advocates (mentors) that can be a part of an *Innovation Advisory Council. As a more permanent solution, an *Office of Innovation could be established to support new processes.
*The Innovation Advisory Council is a select group of leaders who provide advice and counsel to leadership on program and process improvements that are supportive of building an innovation culture.
Establishing an *Office of Innovation is an important step to feeding the innovation culture. The main goal of the Office is to help a select a group of trained innovation advocates facilitate innovation by being conduits and connectors for idea generators. The end goal is to help people with ideas find sponsors and funding. The Office of Innovation is the primary resource for leaders and employees to find training and coaching on innovation in general or to help employees transform their own ideas into business opportunities. Setting up the office in terms of goals, measurement, and selection of innovation advocates in each directorate can be overseen by the Innovation Advisory Council.
Ultimately, we would like to engage every PEO and MDC. To match many technologies in development with many technology needs, APEX must cover the technology consumer space with sufficient depth and breadth. APEX requires an understanding of how data is captured in different ways, in order to be able to scale up the Tech Pull concept.
Several PEOs and MDCs hold regular “technology fair” meetings where new technology can be presented. APEX can help get you on the agenda, assist you in event preparation, and identify potential “matches” between your technology and the needs of the PEOs/MDCs. APEX is continually learning the changing business model(s) of the PEOs/MDCs and in some cases may be able to give you direct contacts, while in other cases APEX may not yet have established contacts to assist your search. Ultimately APEX is not the only or primary method to contact technology consumers. Many companies contact PEOs / MDCs through a cold-call or a friend-of-a-friend.