Air Force awards funding to 51 companies at Pitch Day

NEW YORK. At the Inaugural Air Force Pitch Day event, U.S. Air Force officials selected 51 companies and released an initial award of up to $158,000 to each company totaling $8.75 million.

Air Force Pitch Day is modeled after commercial investment pitch competitions to deliver a faster, smarter approach to compete for ideas in the accelerating technology ecosystem, Air Force officials report. The process is a major departure from the lengthy contractual processes typically expected of the military. It focuses on rapidly awarding Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), contracts to companies based on a simpler streamlined evaluation of white papers and in-person presentations.

During the process, Air Force contracting officials reviewed 417 submissions received during the 30-day application period and then invited 59 businesses to pitch their proposals in person on March 6.

The average amount of time to award contracts and pay companies via government credit card following a successful pitch at Air Force Pitch Day was 15 minutes.

Developing a same-day payment method via government credit card is key to helping businesses see the Air Force as a preferred partner to growth, stated to Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, speaks to a crowd of small businesses, venture capitalists and Airmen during the inaugural Air Force Pitch Day. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)

“The fact that these small businesses don’t have to go get loans, or bridges, waiting for that 120 days to get on contract is a big deal. It means they can focus immediately on working with us, understanding our users, delivering for the warfighter,” Roper added in an Air Force Release. “For those who think using a credit card is a gimmick, they need to come down and work with companies for whom money matters. And for the size companies we saw this week, that paycheck today means they are now focused on our mission and not making payroll.”

“We are at the beginning of a big culture shift in the government. We woke up and said we are not the only funder or inventor of new technology anymore … we are a partner with those who do,” Roper added.

Roper explained that the Air Force community prepared for Pitch Day the week prior through a series of rapid contracting sprints, awarding 122 Phase I SBIR contracts totaling $6 million. They also awarded 69 Phase II SBIR contracts totaling $60 million, 11 of which featured government matching contributions and five contracts with private matching.

During the entire week, including Pitch Day, the Air Force awarded 242 SBIR contracts valued at $75 million.

Roper said the next challenge for the Air Force is to organize to do this type of activity at scale.