Outside groups are stepping in to help match the U.S. Defense Department and other federal agencies with small businesses and entrepreneurs – a process the military has struggled with in the past.
Recent budget cuts to planned defense spending has made it even more difficult for the military services to take chances on smaller businesses versus the larger defense firms like Boeing and Lockheed Martin that the Defense Department has come to depend on.
However, military leaders acknowledge much of the innovation they will need for future modernization programs is being developed by these smaller companies. Agencies like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency were stood up to foster these ideas and help bring entrepreneurs into the fold, but they also have needed assistance.
On May 7, a new public-private partnership is hosting what’s called a Deal Day to help connect these small businesses and entrepreneurs to federal contracts and introduce them to the problems the Defense Department is facing.
Organized by Tandem NSI, the event will take place in Arlington, Va., and be attended by program managers and representatives from DARPA, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the Defense Intelligence Agency, among others. David Harris, the deputy general counsel for SpaceX, will serve as the key note speaker.
Tandem NSI has been in existence for only a few months, but the founder, Jonathan Aberman, said the organization has already received a strong response from national security agencies looking for new ways to reach out to entrepreneurs and what are called “non-traditional performers.”
“What we are trying to do is make program managers available to non-traditional performers and give them a platform to promote what they are doing, especially in fields like robotics, additive manufacturing and cyber security,” Aberman said.
Those three sectors are areas that Pentagon leaders know the military needs to catch up and adopt developments being made in industry. Generals and admirals have all said the military trails woefully behind in cyber security and robotics. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is only recently realizing the potential of 3D printing and how it could change how the military supplies troops.
Aberman said TandemNSI is planning events over the summer specific to additive manufacturing and cyber security. He explained that national security agencies want to know what entrepreneurs are creating in these fields and find better ways to have them work with the government.
Developing these relationships with entrepreneurs is important because it's not as simple as handing over a government contract. The military is competition with other larger companies outside the national security realm. Google recently bought multiple companies in the robotics and drone industries like Boston Dynamics that had been doing research for the U.S. military.
Military leaders have worked to try and protect research and development funding within their 2015 defense budget proposal. However, the Pentagon has reduced funding for key portions of the development process such as the testing of new prototypes, according to a Defense News report.
Aberman explained that he’s seen reductions in R&D funding, but he commended the Pentagon for the protections put in place for small businesses and non-traditional performers. He argued that the current budget environment should encourage the Pentagon to reach out to entrepreneurs more to try and save money.
“If the budget is flat or cut slightly, you have to find ways to do R&D more efficiently,” he said. “Entrepreneurs know how to do more with less and they can do it more efficiently and nimbly.”