Published on
Sep 23, 2021

The Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment, or APEX, is a first-of-its-kind program that aims to enhance partnerships between the Department of the Air Force, academia, and industry. The five-year, $49 million program focuses on enhancing academic engagement nationwide in support of the National Defense and U.S. Air Force 2030 Strategies. APEX provides free resources and services to academic researchers and innovators interested in participating in or applying for funding from the Air Force Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transition Research (STTR) programs. One of those free services is APEX SBIR/STTR Process Navigation, which involves team matchmaking and consulting. Team matchmaking entails locating and connecting potential collaborators within the APEX network. Consulting entails supporting entrepreneurial and academic researchers the best support possible during their pursuit for Department of the Air Force SBIR/STTR funding, from pre-proposal to post-award. Below are the findings of the impact of the APEX SBIR/STTR Team Matchmaking service on the academic and small business innovation ecosystem throughout the United States. 

What is the APEX Matchmaking Service and how does it work? 

The APEX program has the mission to expand the American research enterprise in a way that moves defense technology from discovery to reality. In July of 2020, the APEX Team developed and launched a matchmaking service aimed at creating collaborations between academia and industry specifically for Department of the Air Force SBIR/STTR proposals. This service allows any organization to enter their information into an anonymized database that others can then search through, and request introductions based on their partnering requirements. Those who wish to enter their information into the database are asked to fill out a short form that captures information, such as what type of partner they are looking for and what technologies are sought from and brought to the potential partnership. There is also an option for organizations to offer their expertise to those in need, allowing those who are not actively pursuing funding to let others know they would be interested if the fit is right. As the introduction requests come in, APEX facilitates the connections and then leaves it up to the organizations involved to discuss possible synergies.  

APEX Matchmaking success over the past year 

To date, the APEX Matchmaking Service has facilitated over 400 industry-to-industry and industry-to-academia introductions. We expect this number to grow as word spreads and more outreach is conducted. Figure 1 (below) shows the cumulative number of connections made since the establishment of the APEX Program up until June 2021. Each U.S. Air Force solicitation round is labeled on the chart and explains the spikes in the data during each month the service was made available to organizations seeking partnerships. 

Cumulative Connections Made

Figure 1. Cumulative connections made 

The initial spike in the graph during June 2020 (circled in red on Figure 1) denotes the implantation of the matchmaking service. To date, over 175 organizations have participated in this program and entered their information into the database in hopes of finding potential partners for the U.S. Air Force SBIR/STTR program, with 35 of those being universities. These organizations are centered throughout the United States, and each bring their own set of expertise to these partnerships.  

A recent survey was sent to those who have utilized the APEX Matchmaking Service to gather information, such as whether they found this service useful and if it led to productive collaborations. According to those who responded, approximately 43% of the introductions resulted in some sort of productive collaboration.  

These respondents were then asked to provide the APEX Team insight on the type of collaborations that were formed. According to the responses, about 57% of the efforts were directly focused on U.S. Air Force SBIR/STTR proposals. Those who pursued this funding were then encouraged to join the APEX Process Navigation pre-award cohort where further assistance was provided for proposal preparation.  

The survey also asked respondents how likely they were to recommend the APEX Matchmaking Service to their colleagues. This question was weighted on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being highly unlikely and 5 being highly likely. The results from this question showed an average rating of 4/5 with around 75% of the responses listed as either likely or highly likely. One client even went so far to create a LinkedIn post that showcased his gratitude for APEX and this service we offer. 


The team is constantly working to maintain and improve the matchmaking service for future solicitations and aims to create even more productive collaborations between industry and academia for the Department of the Air Force. 

Check out the APEX client portfolio here

What’s next for the APEX Matchmaking Service? 

We’ve recently asked those who have participated in the APEX Matchmaking Service to provide us with their feedback on how we can better improve our offerings. One of the reoccurring comments was that the partnerships formed took time to develop and sometimes the limited time within a solicitation period is not enough. For this reason, the team has decided to offer the matchmaking service year-round, rather than just during the U.S. Air Force SBIR/STTR solicitation periods. This will allow partnerships to form at any time and create a more robust offering to the Department of the Air Force. To help keep the information in the database relevant and up to date, those who enter their information will be asked to resubmit every three months. The APEX Team will continue to facilitate these introductions and assist in forming effective collaborations for the Department of the Air Force.  

If you want to pursue an STTR/SBIR solicitation and need a required partner or need a subcontractor with talents to fill a gap on an SBIR solicitation, or you want to offer your services as a potential partner or subcontractor, please contact us today using the prompt below.