Durham, North Carolina -- EZTrain is a software as a service (SaaS) startup that specializes in training, scheduling, storing documents, and sending notifications to improve training efficiency and readiness for the U.S. Air Force and other national security organizations. The company won a $50,000 Air Force Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I award in partnership with Duke University.
The Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment (APEX) program provided process navigation consultation services to EZTrain throughout the STTR award application process. APEX, a Department of the Air Force partnership intermediary program funded by the Department of the Air Force to provide process-navigation services, such as team matchmaking and proposal consulting, to small businesses and academic researchers around the USA who possess technologies and/or scientific capabilities that have the potential to advance U.S. national security interests.
What is EZTrain?
EZTrain algorithmically identifies and collates disparate training data with minimal user input into one interactive dashboard. This dashboard provides end-to-end visibility into a unit’s readiness and provides data analytics/insights to drive continuous improvement in readiness management over time. EZTrain’s automated tools save time and streamline communications in all three key aspects of training: preparation, execution, documentation. They have tested their product in active training environments with 300+ end-users and realized significant impact through saving time, increasing task completion, and improving accountability.
The concept for EZTrain started with a team of students at Duke University in a class called “Hacking for Defense”, which is a national security innovation network program with classes across different universities.
“While in this class, we were paired up with the problem sponsor out of the 916th Air Refueling Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base,” said Luke Sommer, co-founder at EZTrain. “After making that connection, we spent a lot of time visiting the base, doing 200 plus interviews, and learning what the core problem is.”
The team at Duke University discovered a problem with training and efficiency within the U.S. Air Force Reserves. At the time, the U.S. Air Force relied on a lot of outdated methods to compile, organize, and synthesize their training and readiness data, leading to a huge time and resource burden on supervisors and detracting from their goal of mission readiness.
“After discovering this problem, we created the software called EZTrain that helps to automatically synthesize all their training and readiness data and empowers them with a lot of communication scheduling data analytics tools to streamline and modernize the process of readiness training,” said Sommer.
Connecting with APEX and applying for SBIR/STTR
Sommer and team received a lot of enthusiasm for their technology from the Air Force Reserve. This encouraged them to advance their research and take it to the next level, and with the help of their advisor at Duke University, they connected with the chief at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. This connection set them on the path to exploring Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Technology Transfer (STTR) grants with the Department of Defense and eventually pushed them to form a formal business entity — EZTrain — in June 2020.
“There are a ton of federal requirements involved in applying for SBIR/STTR awards. APEX helped a lot throughout that process of understanding various terms in the federal environment and in helping us get squared away with all the requirements. They helped us throughout the process of creating a slide deck and creating a white paper. For any company that is trying to pivot into the defense sector, having a team of experts that can walk you through all the requirements and put you on an organized timeline is extremely valuable,” said Sommer.
EZTrain’s clientele consists of the Air Force Reserves, Air National Guard, and Army National Guard. They are also conversing with different stakeholders in the defense space, too. EZTrain also worked with non-U.S. defense agencies that have similar training needs as the Department of Defense. EZTrain recently applied for an SBIR direct to phase II award and is waiting to hear back from the agency on their application result.
“Our goal is to pursue the dual-use potential of the commercial non-defense sphere, for our technology application as well as for the U.S. Air Force and other U.S. Defense agencies,” said Sommer.
About Academic Partnership Engagement Experiment (APEX)
APEX cultivates innovation by expanding the American research enterprise for the Department of the Air Force by engaging, connecting, and enabling innovators across academia, industry, and the Department of Defense. APEX utilizes data analytics to identify transformational operational defense solutions in academia, industry, and government sectors; provides process navigation services for academic teams and small businesses and enhances cross-sector engagement by providing direct connections to the technology needs of multiple Department of Defense programs.
EZTrain is led by a team of creative thinkers who put their end-users at the center of all decisions. They focus on analyzing their customers' objectives and delivering solutions that directly address customer needs. EZTrain strives to save time and resources because they understand how these incremental benefits can improve mission readiness for their customers.