WASHINGTON -- As Army leaders push modernization and acquisition reform, efforts are underway to make it easier for small businesses to step up and fill in gaps.On Tuesday, the Army Office of Small Business Programs kicked off a two-day seminar at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting to assist about 1,500 small businesses.
"Innovation comes from the small businesses that we have out there," said Pamela Callicutt, the acting director. "We have to sustain our industrial base with the small businesses so that they can bring the innovation to the Army."A key part of the seminar are matchmaking sessions, which allow entrepreneurs to engage with representatives from the Army, federal government agencies, and with industry partners.In them, a group of five entrepreneurs sit and discuss their business models with the representatives during 15-minute periods."You need to have your elevator speech ready," she said. "It's like speed dating. You have five people sitting at the table and they quickly go over their capabilities with whoever the government buyer is."While no contracts are necessarily given out during the sessions, they do allow the agencies the opportunity to tell entrepreneurs what they are procuring.
The Army relies heavily on small businesses and leads the federal government in spending. In fiscal year 2017, more than $18.5 billion was spent on small businesses, according to the Army Office of Small Business Programs."What we do is advocate for the small businesses, especially if they have a capability to meet our mission requirements," Callicutt said.The seminar also consists of panel discussions and opportunities on how small businesses can fit into the Army's modernization and readiness priorities.On Tuesday, the agenda included an update on Army Futures Command. The Army's new command, which is expected to reach full operational capability next summer, was created to get closer to innovators.Near its headquarters in Austin, Texas, the command has set up an Army Applications Lab inside an incubator hub. It also held a "hack-a-thon" competition last month and handed out three $15,000 awards to further refine counter-drone concepts.Jeffrey White, principal deputy for the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, is expected to speak at the seminar Wednesday.His organization is currently holding the Army Expeditionary Technology Search, or xTechSearch, a new program that plans to award $125,000 apiece to 12 small business finalists. One of those finalists could earn an additional $250,000 to help develop their technology.The seminar also includes a discussion with small business directors, including Callicutt, as well as international trade opportunities and a talk on safeguarding covered defense information.
"The agenda we have put together will give small businesses more insight into where the Army is going in the future and how they need to align with the Army's mission," Callicutt said.