The Inaugural Air Force Pitch Day: New contracts and new partners

By CourtesyMarch 8, 2019

The Air Force awarded 51 companies contracts with a total initial value of $8.75 million in a matter of minutes at the Inaugural Air Force Pitch Day event held March 6-7, 2019, in New York City.

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. 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 contracts to companies based on a simpler streamlined evaluation of white papers and in-person presentations.

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen W. Wilson emphasized that lowering barriers to access and empowering people - whether small businesses, industry, research labs or academia - allows the Air Force to deliver speed of capability to the battlefield.

"Events such as Pitch Day allow us to connect small businesses to the operator, then to a real problem, and bring those two together to build a partnership," said Wilson.

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.

Of those 59 businesses, 51 received an initial award of up to $158,000 with initial payment within minutes of their presentations.

The average amount of time to award contracts and pay companies via government credit card following a successful pitch at AF Pitch Day was 15 minutes. The fastest award occurred in only three minutes. Previously, the fastest award of a contract of this type was approximately 90 days - a period of time many small businesses and startups cannot survive through without funding.

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 according to Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics.

"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," said Dr. Will Roper. "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."

More than 500 attendees from government, industry, academia, venture capital, and investment communities also participated in AF Pitch Day March 7, which served as an open event that delivered a broader platform for invited companies to pitch to a larger community than just the Air Force.

"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," said Roper.

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

"We have to do this across the country, across all places that do Air Force acquisition," said Roper. "Now that we've wrung all the lessons out of the process, we're ready to box it up as a tool that can be executed by the work force out in the field."