Published on
Dec 8, 2020

On June 19, 2020, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) and its partnership intermediary the Basic Research Innovation and Collaboration Center (BRICC) hosted a live webinar that drew in around 1,000 registrants with over 500 of those registrants attending via Zoom. These registrants came from ten countries, over 160 universities and more than 60 different companies and greater than 84% of those who registered were new to the AFOSR. The goal of this webinar was to introduce and explain functions of key entities in the U.S. Air Force ecosystem and link the Department of Defense (DoD), universities, industries and science and technology partners in support of national defense.

As the AFOSR’s partnership intermediary, the BRICC’s mission is to find and fund basic revolutionary science for the AFOSR. Partnership intermediaries are agreements between the government and an intermediary organization such as state and local governmental agencies and nonprofit entities operated by or on behalf of a state or local government to perform services. The services increase the likelihood of success in the conduct of cooperative or joint activities with small business firms and educational institutions that need technology-related assistance from a federal laboratory. Using innovation, collaboration, technology and workforce development, the BRICC strives to promote information sharing pathways towards funding opportunities.

The AFOSR is a vital component of the AFRL and has the mission to support U.S. Air Force goals of control and maximum utilization of air, space and cyberspace. The AFOSR accomplishes its mission by investing in basic research efforts for the U.S. Air Force in relevant scientific areas. The AFRL also uses Small Business Innovation Research(SBIR)and Small Business Technology Transfer(STTR) to transition basic research into capabilities for the U.S. Air Force.

The Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment (APEX) participated in this webinar and provided participants a breakdown of its program and services that support the U.S. Air Force Science & Technology 2030 Strategy. APEX is a Partnership Intermediary Agreement between the Department of the Air Force. APEX connects academic innovators with the Department of the Air Force and industry and eliminates barriers in accelerating the transition of science and technology solutions into transformational U.S. Air Force operational capabilities.

Key Timestamps:

[00:05:39] The BRICC provided an overview of their role and pathway to funding opportunities, all the organizations and partnership intermediaries involved in the day and of the speakers and their topics of presentation.

[00:07:14] The BRICC presented compelling infographics illustrating how the AFOSR ecosystem works and the role of partnership intermediaries, using the APEX program and the Doolittle Institute as examples which, although non-profits, provide a gateway for small businesses to interact and comply with larger buyers in the U.S. Air Force.

[00:17:19] The Basic Research Enterprise at the Department of Defense (DoD)is funded for the purpose of vast problem-solving through the idea that “necessity is the mother of invention.The DoD invests in several programs including doctoral and fellowship programs at universities and laboratories as well as other departments. Some of the ongoing DoD programs mentioned include the Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship, a flagship single-investigator program that offers 103 awards across 42 universities for a total of $310 million; the University Collaborative Initiative that encourages collaboration to support high-risk basic science; and the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) that enables cross facilitation among disciplines to stimulate the growth of emerging technologies.

[00:43:35] An overview of the AFRL, the primary research and development center for the U.S. Air Force, is covered. With over one hundred years of critical research efforts for the U.S. Air Force and the DoD, nine national locations and three international sites, the AFRL develops affordable war-fighting technologies and delivers cutting-edge innovative solutions. They find, form, fund and forward research that can one day potentially benefit the needs of the Department of Air Force. The AFRL’s basic research portfolio includes engineering and complex systems, information and networks, physical sciences and chemistry and biological sciences. The AFRL’s program officers create strategic partnerships between DoD agencies, other government agencies and academia to form a highly effective network.

[01:09:35] The AFRL facilitates transition of research through its technology directorates, SBIR and STTR. STTR is aimed to commercialize dual-use research. Diversifying their investment strategy as well as their customer base allows STTR to lessen the risk involved in the defense and commercial market. STTR offers three phases of contracts to engage and partner with small businesses and nonprofits and is open to any eligible small business interested in doing business with the U.S. Government.

[01:49:03] To help businesses navigate the STTR process, the APEX program connects the private sector with the DoD. The APEX program uses data analytics as its foundation of research and collaboration with innovators in academia and industry. The APEX program puts a heavy emphasis on bringing in non-traditional research and technology entities like universities and small businesses that have not typically worked with the DoD. APEX also uses targeted education programs to reach out to small businesses and universities that are interested in working with the government. The education and training component of the APEX program has three levels of comprehensive, concise and focused training modules that correspond to the three phases of the STTR process. APEX works closely with the identified companies interested in STTR proposals from Phase I through Phase III, helping them navigate the government processes, assisting them with building essential networks and mentoring them towards Phase III outcomes.

[01:55:41]  The APEX program has both a regional and national approach to building university and small business relationships. Its regional approach includes the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), which encompasses a region of 13 states and 420 counties. The APEX works with regional partners that include both technology business development organizations with ties to the ARC. The region includes 18 R1 and R2 research universities providing the APEX program with an ideal set up to test methods before nationwide application. The APEX program’s method of outreach and support is both broad and targeted, with its regional partners assisting in both network building and assistance of regional companies beginning the SBIR/STTR process. 

[01:58:29] For its national approach, the APEX program team takes a focused, targeted approach during STTR proposal releases to identify and work with university spin outs that are in areas of interest to the U.S. Air Force. The APEX program’s analytics efforts are focused on mapping, growing and leveraging global innovation ecosystems and bringing the members of that ecosystem into the DoD environment.  

[02:09:50]  Another PIA, the Doolittle Institute, named after Jimmy Doolittle and the Doolittle raid of WWII is founded upon rapid innovation through technology transfer mechanisms. Their objectives include technology transfer, technology transition, innovation and collaboration and workforce development. The Doolittle Institute is operated under a partnership intermediary agreement between its corporate parent company DEFENSEWERX and the AFRL Munitions Directorate. The Doolittle Institute is a part of AFRL’s Innovation Institutes. As part of their workforce development efforts, the Doolittle Institute runs the First Lego League for STEM Outreach throughout Northwest Florida and collaborates with the AFRL to participate in the laboratory’s Legacy Program and the Scholars Program. 

[02:40:51] A great example of how the network between all key entities in the U.S. Air Force leads to success is the company Adranos Energetics, which started with AFOSR basic research funding through the Graduate Fellowship and MURI. Adranos Energetics is a manufacturing company focused on developing new and enhanced rocket fuel propellants. Adranos Energetics explains that, through research in the university setting and various stakeholders, they were able to work their way up to becoming a successful company.

As a small business or academic organization, it may seem daunting to begin the process of working with the AFOSR and/or the larger U.S. Air Force SBIR/STTR ecosystem, however the organizations mentioned above are available to help you navigate and be successful in the program. This webinar is a great tool full of information and recommendations for innovators in academia and industry who are eager to collaborate with the U.S. Air Force on science and technology development. Through this webinar, innovators can learn about each organization and its services that play a role in supporting the AFRL’s mission and U.S. Air Force SBIR/STTR programs. Together, we can move technology from discovery to reality!