The following are frequently asked questions of the Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment (APEX) program.

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.

Partnership Intermediary Agreements (PIAs) are an agency of a State or local government or a nonprofit entity contracted by a federal lab or agency that works specifically with small businesses and/or universities and received federal funding reserved for technology transfer activities.

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.

Think of APEX as a “trail guide” for the U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR program. Support services we can provide specific to your U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR proposal include:

  • 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
APEX helps qualified technology researchers and entrepreneurs through U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR processes. Supported companies must be a technology company and present reasonable prospects to be able to compete for SBIR / STTR awards. Services businesses or consumer-type businesses that don’t have a strong technology component typically don’t qualify.

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 prides itself for our network of entrepreneurs, small businesses and technologies. We often make connections that lead to collaborations either for SBIR / STTR proposals or other activities.

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 can help universities by making connections with small businesses interested in partnering with you to develop technology, advising you on the ins and outs of U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR proposal processes, and by helping map your technology to an appropriate U.S. Air Force stakeholder.
APEX does not create or write a proposal for you. We are willing to review your proposal and offer suggestions with the understanding that our suggestions are just that: suggestions. You assume all responsibility for the proposal including your decisions on whether to consider our suggestions. Please view our process navigation services here.

APEX uses a three-pronged strategy designed to maximize the human dynamics of Innovation. 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.  
  3. 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. 

Blue Sky workshops are used to ideate or identify new conceptual solutions to customer challenges. New conceptual solutions are generated to deliver novel options for short term objectives (discovery) and long-range strategic planning to define gaps in knowledge and investment. The identified gaps can then become new projects/programs, challenge problems, Vanguards, U.S. Air Force Explore topics, WARTECH projects and/or U.S. Air Force SBIR / STTR topics or prototypes demonstrations. Blue Sky workshops can also focus on a specific technology area, brainstorm new technology areas and/or raise the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of a strategically significant component of new or existing technologies. 
Following Blue Sky ideation or targeted toward a specified goal, Innovation Challenge Programs integrate the full spectrum of APEX offerings. The challenge begins with APEX data analytics and matching-learning tools to identify technologies and teams/partnerships. This team formation phase also makes use of our APEX national outreach program to access networks of academic institutions and non-traditional businesses that are engaged in a technology area. The process uses Prize Competition Authorities (10 USC 2374a, 15 USC 3719) and pitch day concepts. 
Many technology transition agents focus on a small set of customers or technology areas. Unlike most entities that work primarily off personal relationships, we are developing a data analytics back-end that will assist in the down-selection and match-making process. APEX takes a many-on-many matching concepts in order to pair technologies in development with technology needs. By codifying and understanding both technology in development and technology needs, APEX will create a system that scales beyond what a small transition agent would be able to accomplish, enabling the U.S. Air Force technology enterprise on a national scale. 

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. 

Yes. APEX is in the active process of reaching out to PEOs and MDCs based upon a partial understanding of your needs and our ability to connect you to technology in the transition pipeline. Contacting APEX early will bump your priority higher in the list – ensuring APEX connects with those programs that want to engage in our approach first. 

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.