Air Force Featured Stories

New platform IGNITEs defense innovation

  • Published
  • By Katie Milligan
  • AFWERX

AFWERX has launched IGNITE, a platform where defense users can search for and easily interact with thousands of small businesses that have secured previous Department of the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer awards. This controlled line of communication between technology developers and end users will strengthen the integration and adoption of these technologies, resulting in increased collaboration between government and industry. 
 
"IGNITE is an important step to connect the broader Department of Defense ecosystem,” said Col. Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director and chief commercialization officer for the DAF. “It enables Airmen, Guardians and joint forces to quickly identify and access innovative technologies and unleash American ingenuity to solve pressing defense problems." 
 
IGNITE was built on top of the existing VISION platform used by thousands of DoD users. VISION, launched in Oct. 2021, was a first-of-its-kind ecosystem that used centralized data to make connections for government users, allowing them to see across their organization and innovate more efficiently by reducing duplication of effort and promoting faster adoption of replicable solutions. 
 
The AFWERX Spark division became involved in the creation of VISION when Spark Cells across multiple major commands assisted with testing and feedback for improvements. Currently, more than 5,200 defense users across every branch of the DoD are benefitting from the platform. 
 
“I would love to see tools like VISION and IGNITE be used frequently when it comes to managing innovation projects,” said Staff Sgt. Kyndal Lievano, previous Spark Cell lead at Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, and current AFWERX Spark Cell coordinator of the eastern United States and Europe. “Being a new Spark Cell lead back in 2021, it was very helpful for me to see what other Spark Cells across the DAF were working on in VISION and it helped my program gain a lot of traction on base as well as opened other members’ minds to what was available in this ecosystem.” 
 
However, AFWERX wanted to get the small business community involved, which led to the creation of IGNITE through a Phase III award with Mobilize, a Colorado-based data analytics and artificial intelligence company. Businesses that have received DAF SBIR and STTR awards within the past five years will be automatically loaded into IGNITE and only need to log in to claim and populate their storefront. IGNITE then enables small business users to interface with defense users already active on the VISION platform and tap into sole-source justifiable capabilities. 
 
IGNITE has been in development and testing for nearly a year, and since launching in July, it has provided defense users safe access to a universe of pre-vetted companies within a secure, Common Access Card-enabled environment. 
 
Lievano, who assisted with the IGNITE testing, explains, “When you submit your problem as the individual user, VISION is now giving you options of companies that could potentially work to get the solution. That is an amazing capability that will save so much time.” 
 
IGNITE is built with intentional communication guardrails allowing defense users to adjust small business access depending on current defense needs (i.e. project, budget, timing, etc.), while creating opportunities for businesses to develop quality connections to potential future customers and end users. 
 
Kathy Reid, former Emerald Spark Cell lead at the 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, enjoyed VISION’s ability to handle her cell’s robust portfolio of over 100 companies and some 400 ideas. 
 
“Given the quantity of ideas received from squadron Airmen, we really needed a tool to easily connect across the ecosystem and capture critical data needs that inform leadership on the value of an innovation culture and a transformative mindset,” Reid said. 
 
Reid appreciates VISION’s task, data and deliverable management features, as well as the way the platform enables connectivity with other installations around the world. “Some of our innovative ideas gained the traction that allowed us to connect with more than 20 Air Force bases on a single innovation. 
 
“With the launch of IGNITE, we will have the ability to operate as a single enterprise. Having multiple bases converge with their innovative ideas to solve a single problem set – is what tools like this do. They bring that collaboration not only internally for the DoD, but now we can connect to industry partners and even academia [through the STTR program], because it’s going to take all of us working collectively as a team,” Reid said. 
 
AFWERX personnel will be available for demonstrations and to help companies claim their company storefront during Fed Supernova, an innovation-focused networking event for government, industry and investors hosted by the Capital Factory in Austin, Texas, Aug. 22-24. 
 
Defense users and small businesses can learn more about VISION and IGNITE and register as a user by visiting here.