AUSA News: Army Boosting Numbers of Small Businesses Innovation Research Awards

By Laura Heckmann

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Small businesses have “always been an important part of the Army team,” and the office of the assistant secretary for the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology's deputy said the service is “dedicated to using all the authorities available to our Army to reach the small business and non-traditional vendor base.”

As an example, Small Business Innovation Research Program awards are on the rise, Megan Dake, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for procurement at the office of the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology), or ASA (ALT), reported in a talk at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting and exposition Oct. 10.

ASA (ALT)'s goal is to reduce the burden on small businesses “so you don't waste your time and your energy and your internal resources,” she said. The organization is “dedicated” to creating a “more business friendly approach to streamline proposal requirements … and incentivize rapid contracting,” she said. Commercial success and technology partnerships with the Army “are not mutually exclusive,” she said. “You can have both and ASA (ALT) is dedicated to making that possible.”

She gave what she called “flagship examples” of this effort, between ASA (ALT), the Small Business Innovation Research Program, Small Business Technology Transfer Program and the Army’s xTech program, which hosts Army prize competitions and connects businesses with Army and Defense Department experts.

Together, all are working toward three main goals, she said: connecting with small and non-traditional businesses to spur innovation; breaking down barriers and accelerating technology development for the Army; and propelling small business toward enduring commercial viability and success.

The SBIR and STTR programs have “evolved and adapted” to “make it easier and more seamless” for small businesses to receive funding “in a timely manner so that awardees can get right to work on these hard complex technology areas,” she said.

In fiscal year 2023, the transition-focused SBIR program received 835 proposals from 792 small businesses or non-traditional companies, in response to 17 new contract opportunities, Dake said., The SBIR program also awarded 104 Phase 2 contracts totaling over $171 million, demonstrating what Dake called a “strong commercialization transition.”

Initial and incremental funding was provided to 350 research-and-development projects and 267 contracts were awarded — 50 more than fiscal year 2022, she said. Among the awards were 89 to artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, 15 in autonomy and robotics, 29 to sensor technology and 60 in wearable technologies, she added.

The xTech program, created in 2018, has conducted approximately 30 competitions and awarded “more than $20 million in cash prizes and $122 million” in contract awards since its inception, she said. The program allows the Army to “offer unique opportunities, not just cash prizes” such as cyber and Other Transaction Authority awards, she added.

She also noted five inaugural Catalyst contract awards were granted, totaling “nearly $5 million,” including one in the newly ,established contested logistics and sustainment technologies focus area.

Another “significant event” in 2023 was the first full year operation for the Army’s Small Business Innovation Contracting Center of Excellence, she said.

The newly-formed center was stood up to improve efficiencies and streamline initiatives across the Army’s SBIR-funded portfolio, she said. The contracting center awarded 350 contract actions in 2023 totaling over $244 million, Dake said. “Most notably … and I think, really, really important” was taking procurement action lead time from an average of 150 days down to 26 calendar days, she added.

The center writes small business contract awards that are “concise, consistent and straightforward, allowing small businesses … to focus on supporting our mission instead of … spending your valuable time working through [and] navigating the government contract process,” she said.

An Army initiative called Project Vista — announced at last year’s AUSA annual meeting — is one of five strategic initiatives announced last year by Undersecretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo “to expand partnerships between technology integrators, small businesses and the Army — ultimately helping small business innovators bridge the valley of death between development, production and scale,” an Army article stated.

Dake said the hope is that Project Vista will facilitate a “rich diversity of projects,” and in doing so, provide “a higher technical rating during the source selection process to those who incorporate these investments [in] innovation into their solution.”

“So we're going to potentially use the source selection process to incentivize primes to take the investment that we've invested into a SBIR or STTR or [Other Transaction] process into their proposal.”

Topics: Army News

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