NATICK, Mass. -- Now in its fifth year, the Bootstrap Initiative and Pitch Day at the Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, or CCDC SC, encourages innovation and empowers employees to come up with ingenious, cost-effective solutions, while streamlining processes and minimizing bureaucracy.

Dr. Ken Desabrais, who works in CCDC SC's Office of the Chief Scientist, conceived the idea for the Bootstrap Initiative. Through the program, government civilian employees at CCDC SC are allowed to submit proposals for a new technology, research project, business process, or administrative process that supports CCDC SC's science and technology mission.

CCDC SC is dedicated to using science and technology to ensure America's warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. The center's science and engineering expertise are combined with collaborations with industry, DOD, and academia to advance Soldier and squad performance.

"Bootstrap has provided our entire workforce an opportunity to pursue some unique ideas while supporting the Soldier Center's mission," said Desabrais. "In the five years the initiative has been around, it has been great to see the progress people have made with their Bootstrap projects. Many of the projects have been very successful whether it involved buying a piece of equipment to help make someone's job easier or it involved a small amount of funding to get a research project off the ground."

Although Bootstrap is intended to reduce red tape and encourage innovation, there are still some submission restrictions. For instance, ideas must be able to be carried out for $50,000 or less. Funding cannot be used to fund a contractor or external contract. The effort must be executed quickly.

The program benefits both the workforce and the warfighter.

"Bootstrap provides our workforce a chance to explore exciting projects in collaboration with colleagues across the Center," said Desabrais. "Some of these efforts have grown into multi-year projects far exceeding the intended scope of the original application. This helps us provide valuable solutions to our customer, the Soldier, through our internal and external partners. I am eager to see where the current projects go and what new ideas people come up with in the future."

This year's proposals ranged from the "Smartphone Precision Aerial Delivery System," to the updated version of the "3-D Printed, Self-Powered Flow Meter" that measures individual Soldier water consumption, to the "Shelter Insulation Improvements via Vacuum System" -- to name just a few of the 2019 proposals.

The Bootstrap Initiative not only gives employees the chance to propose ideas, they also have the chance to vote on which ideas receive funding. Pitch Day is a key part of this process. During Pitch Day, proposers are given the chance to garner employee voter support for their ideas by making posters, displaying prototypes, creating interactive displays, and conducting show-and-tell sessions.

"Bootstrap creates an opportunity for our workforce to express their creativity through innovative ideas which address difficult Soldier problems," said Dr. Charlene Mello, CCDC SC's chief scientist. "Perhaps the most significant benefit of the program is the connectivity that is established during Pitch Day which has led to new concepts and professional relationships."

CCDC SC's Deb Anderson, who works in the Office of the Chief Scientist, leads the execution of Bootstrap. She likes the excitement and creativity generated by Pitch Day and the innovative ideas inspired by the Bootstrap Initiative.

"Once again, I think we have generated a bit of fun and enthusiasm around the Bootstrap Initiative," said Anderson. "This is a particularly exciting year as it's our fifth anniversary. As a thank you to the workforce, we have brought in an innovation speaker, Dr. Kathryn Stanley, and will be showcasing some of the success stories from past years."

Stanley is the chair of the Organizational and Leadership Psychology Department at William James College. Her inspiring address to the workforce, which took place in Hunter Auditorium at the beginning of Pitch Day, discussed the dynamics of innovation and how to encourage innovation in organizations.

Stanley noted that innovators value knowledge, are open-minded, and have a shared vision. She stressed that authentic human connection fosters innovation and that innovation can only grow in an environment where all voices are heard and valued, which is one of the ideas behind the Bootstrap program.

One of this year's innovative proposals, "Extruding Filaments for 3-D Printing at CCDC SC," was submitted by Jo Ann Ratto-Ross and Danielle Froio-Blumsack. The filaments that are used in 3-D printed parts can help ensure that warfighters have the parts they need to carry out their missions.

"The Bootstrap program is important to me because it offers the opportunity to explore new technologies and apply knowledge to applications outside of my primary mission area, which is both rewarding and allows for professional growth," said Froio-Blumsack.

"I saw this as an opportunity to have one of Natick's extruders ready to make filament, so we can support the new Innovation Center, leverage upcoming S&T projects on additive manufacturing and even submit some proposals in that arena to use the capability," said Ratto-Ross. "Win-win for all involved!"

This year's Bootstrap Pitch Day also showcased great ideas from previous years. One of those ideas was called "Molded Butyl Rubber with Silicone Beads," which created an improved air-tight seal based on Geometry. The proposal was submitted by Patti Bigrig and Chong Whitfield.

"The initial Ring Interface Component was sewn from plastic and nitrile sheeting that we had here in the shop," said Bigrig. "It has evolved design-wise based mostly on the bubble leak test and the ergonomic movements of the user. Thanks to the technology of 3-D printing, I've been able to speed up this evolution process. The goal is to provide the Army trained Chem/Bio Soldier with a Level A protective interface that will allow the Soldier to don/doff the hood/mask by himself -- possibly in the dark. It will also reserve the air in his tank for the actual boots on the ground mission. It's all about increasing the lethality of our Soldiers -- enabling them to maneuver, perform tactically and survive in a chemically hazardous environment."

Stanley, the guest speaker at this year's event, summed up the success of the Bootstrap program.

"Through Bootstrap, you have created a systemic way to make innovation happen," said Stanley.