WASHINGTON -- Twenty-five small companies plan to discuss their innovative ideas this week while competing to secure a portion of nearly $2 million as part of a new Army campaign to get after emerging technology that could help Soldiers in future warfare.This year, the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting will dedicate its Innovators Corner sessions to highlight the Army's first Expeditionary Technology Search competition, or xTechSearch.Since June, Army officials have dwindled a pool of 300 businesses down to 25 semifinalists as they search for technology outside the traditional defense industry to tackle the Army's six modernization priorities. Those priorities are long-range precision fires, next generation combat vehicle, future vertical lift, network, air and missile defense, and Soldier lethality."One of the things we try to do is find a way to facilitate and understand what's possible by giving you a voice," said Bruce D. Jette, the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, as he spoke to the innovators. "What we really want to do at this corner is listen to you."The competition comes as the Army is in the midst of reforming its acquisition process to better assist industry partners so Soldiers can receive new technology and equipment faster.By Wednesday afternoon, 12 finalists will be chosen and awarded $125,000 each. Those finalists will then go to the next phase of the competition, which consists of six months of development and proof of concept, with one of the finalists being awarded up to $250,000.
"I'm hoping that it's a little bit like at the end of The Voice [TV show], where you get a contract," Jette said Monday. "We're trying to do that, trying to make it easy for you. We're willing to put our money where our mouth is."Even if not chosen, the Innovators Corner sessions, now in their fourth year, will still allow small businesses to share ideas in a public forum."Innovators Corners are not meant to be a place where somebody can afford 500 square feet of booth space out here," Jette said. "This is where small business, innovative business and non-traditional, non-standard defense contractors … can come up and express their ideas."While much of the three days of sessions will belong to the innovators, some discussions will include Army organizations that regularly engage with industry.Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, commander of the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, is slated to speak Monday about leveraging collaboration with industry, academia and international partners for science and technology efforts.On Tuesday, Thomas Russell, the deputy assistant secretary of the Army for research and technology, will provide remarks, and leaders with the Army Test and Evaluation Command will give a briefing.Thomas Webber, director of the Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command's technical center, will give an overview of his organization on Wednesday, followed by David W. Pittman, director of the Army Engineer Research and Development Center."We look forward to this," Jette said to the innovators. "You guys help us change the Army, and that's what it is all about."