WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army xTech Program has wrapped up a second international search for novel science and technology innovations. With two first-place awards going to small businesses from Chile, Latin American innovators are creating a platform for future collaboration with the Army.
xTech Confidence Boost
The xTechInternational competition announced five winners in July 2022. The competition is the follow-on event to xTechGlobal, which concluded in September 2021 and sought out artificial intelligence solutions. The second iteration focused on synthetic biology, electric power/energy and water from small to medium international businesses. Competitors from Chile came out on top in two topic areas: the Bioscience Foundation from Santiago, Chile, in synthetic biology, and Plasma Waters from Concón, Chile, in water.
The Office of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology hosted the competition with support from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, the Air Force Research Laboratory's AFWERX directorate and the U.S. Office of Naval Research Global.
DEVCOM-Americas paid specific attention to this competition due to the participation from Latin American small businesses. DEVCOM-Americas is headquartered in Santiago, Chile, and explores collaborative opportunities within North, Central and South America that can close mission gaps for the Army.
Harry DuRette, DEVCOM-Americas deputy director, and J.M. Larenas, DEVCOM-Americas science and technology advisor, tracked the successes of the Chilean-based small businesses as they progressed through the competition.
Prior to xTech, Bioscience and Plasma Waters were new to working with the Army and skeptical about how their small businesses could make an impact for the broader Army. Larenas, who works out of Chile, has built relationships with these companies and encouraged them to submit white papers for xTechInternational. A big part of his job with DEVCOM-Americas is to facilitate conversations with Latin American small businesses so they know there is a place for them at the Army science and technology table.
“DEVCOM-Americas has a mission to find novel, disruptive science and technologies within [Latin America] that align with Army needs. We have been successful in building these relationships and international collaborations,” Larenas said.
DuRette noted that a common denominator between the two winning businesses was that they were first uncertain that they could successfully compete on an international stage, a frequent misconception among Latin American small businesses. The wins of Bioscience and Plasma Water show that Latin American small businesses can and do compete very well on international science and technology competitions, setting the stage for future successes.
Bioscience and Plasma Waters Tech olutions
Of the 43 small businesses that submitted white papers during the first round of xTechInternational, 20 were selected to pitch their solutions to a panel of defense experts in June 2022. Of the 20 remaining participants, 14 companies were awarded $10,000 and an invitation to compete in the finals, held at three different locations in the U.S. Bioscience and Plasma Waters both advanced to the final phase of competition.
Bioscience traveled to Adelphi, Maryland, for the synthetic biology finals event on July 11. The business, led by Jenny Blamey, is dedicated to extremophile research in Latin America; its solution is an innovative and clean approach to obtaining metallic nanoparticles biosynthetically produced by extremophilic microorganisms. For the Army, this could be applied to reducing corrosion on equipment. The business is currently collaborating with DEVCOM on a bio-corrosion project for vehicles and structures performing in extreme environments, and it is also exploring biomolecules that could manufacture smart materials for clothing.
The company walked away from the competition with a first-place award of an additional $60,000, and a new science and technology platform with xTech and DEVCOM-Americas as a support system.
Plasma Waters, founded by Alfredo Zolezzi, attended the water finals event on July 15 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Its mission is to produce safe water from any source for Soldiers in the field, rather than relying on bulk distribution, chemicals and bottled water. The technology can transform contaminated water into non-thermal plasma and eliminates all microorganisms, such as viruses and bacteria. Soldiers would no longer face a limited or contaminated water supply on the ground or on military installations.
Similar to Bioscience, Plasma Waters won a first-place award of $60,000 and the opportunity to build upon a relationship with the Army, in addition to their current partnerships with global innovation company Siemens, and European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
“xTech offers support so small businesses can make it in the bigger leagues,” Larenas said.
“A barrier is how to take science from Chile and bring it to the rest of the world. DEVCOM-Americas and programs like xTech provide an opportunity to leverage good science from Chile and Latin America, and get it to the U.S.”
The Strength of the Latin American Foundation
DEVCOM-Americas agrees that international science & technology engagements can bring new strengths to the Army, as demonstrated by the two Chilean companies. Latin American science and technology leaders are known for researching very specific problems and determining applied solutions, rather than conducting basic research that may or may not be applicable to a real Army challenge. In the instance of bioscience, Chile’s ability to offer various environmental climates — from the extreme cold of the Antarctic to the Andes mountains and the driest northern deserts in the world — has allowed Blamey to pinpoint rare extremophiles that can contribute to the development of novel bioproducts.
“The science frequently seen in [Latin America] has a very applied aspect to it because they’re trying to solve a specific problem, which falls in line with Army modernization priorities,” DuRette said. “The Army is looking at what we can integrate into our systems now.”
DuRette shared that many of their industry leaders are educated in the U.S., so they understand American science and business processes, while also having international backgrounds that bring different perspectives to the table. While the successful xTech competitors were both Chilean natives, the science and technology industries are thriving in countries such as Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico. The key is making these businesses aware that opportunities with the Army exist, and that the support network of DEVCOM-Americas and xTech can facilitate this connection.
“xTech is expanding our mission to engage [Latin American science and technology] and create a stronger foundation of innovators who can say, ‘We actually did it. We competed in the big leagues,’” DuRette said.
For more information on the xTech Program, visit the website at www.xtechsearch.army.mil.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology provides the American Soldier with a decisive advantage in any mission by developing, acquiring, fielding and sustaining the world's finest equipment and services, and by leveraging technologies and capabilities to meet current and future Army needs.