AFVentures releases annual report, details efforts to expand defense industrial base, fight COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

AFVentures, the Department of the Air Force’s commercial investment group, has released its fiscal year 2020 annual report.

The new report details AFVentures’ successes in fulfilling its mission of expanding and maintaining the Air Force’s innovative capabilities by matching operator needs with private-sector solutions.

Since its 2018 inception, AFVentures has awarded $710 million in contracts to more than 1,400 small companies by using an “Open Topic” approach to attract funding proposals, the report states. This approach is based on the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer processes. However, it also incorporates best practices from the venture capital community, an approach designed to both lower barriers to entry and scale novel capabilities.

Small businesses funded through AFVentures also eventually secured $1.4 billion collectively in non-SBIR/STTR government contracts, the report states. This metric underscores the program’s success in helping companies transition their innovations to the federal government.

Since March 2020, the organization has played a major role in the nation’s response to COVID-19. For example, it acted as a clearinghouse for thousands of ideas on battling the virus. It also executed millions of dollars in projects that expanded the nation’s industrial base in such areas as screening and personal protective equipment and, along with Air Force SBIR/STTR, provided technical evaluation expertise to other federal agencies.

Maj. Jason Rathje, AFVentures director, said the report is meant to represent the program’s return on investment for the Air and Space Force.

“In the pursuit of commercially-derived technological development, we intend to grow the industrial base, increase the transition of commercial technology to the DoD, increase commercialization derived from our investments and partner with private capital to enhance defense,” Rathje said.

“We measure our success by how well we met our objectives. As a taxpayer-funded investment group, the public is our board. Our reports represent our results — the successes and failures — to you, the public, with the intent of achieving radical transparency.”

Report highlights include:

The Open Topic program used to attract SBIR/STTR proposals resulted in 2,300 contract awards, totaling $710 million in investment in small businesses with commercial technologies that also would improve warfighter capabilities. AFVentures utilizes Open Topics in collaboration with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics; the Air Force Research Laboratory and the SBIR/STTR Center of Excellence.

AFVentures’ portfolio companies have received $2.22 billion in private sector investment after receiving Open Topic contract awards. This translates to a 3:1 private capital return on investment for the Air and Space Forces. A Phase III SBIR/STTR award is any work that derives from, extends or completes effort(s) performed under prior SBIR/STTR funding agreements but is funded by sources other than the SBIR/STTR programs. Tracking this impact demonstrates the Open Topic has supported the growth of small businesses while leveraging private-sector research and development of technologies with Air Force applications.

AFVentures, beginning in March 2020, served as the rapid response team in the fight against COVID-19 by establishing a COVID-19 industry portal. The organization received more than 3,500 ideas for fighting the virus through this channel. AFVentures also created the COVID-19 Commercial Solutions Offering. The CSO supported interagency and joint projects to rapidly execute more than $300 million in industrial-base-expansion projects in screening, testing and diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and PPE.

The diverse technical evaluation teams typically used for SBIR/STTR program contracting also were employed as a rapid-response team by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to evaluate more than 300 proposals. This effort resulted in the awarding of $600 million in life-saving procurement contracts.

AFVentures, a division of AFWERX, seeks to expand and maintain innovative capabilities by matching operator needs with private-sector solutions. It primarily works with the SBIR/STTR program to make these connections.

The Air Force established AFWERX in 2017 to foster a culture of innovation in the service and connect innovators across government, industry and academia. Through innovation and collaboration with our nation’s top subject-matter experts and harnessing the power of ingenuity of internal talent, AFWERX has set out to solve some of the most pressing challenges the Air Force faces.

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