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Valuable Air Force, dual-use startup connections made at showcase event

  • Published
  • By Jessica Casserly
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs

The new merge of Banshee Innovation Training and Air Force Labs with MassChallenge programs culminated in a showcase event at MassChallenge’s Boston offices Oct. 25.

For the first time in the history of the Air Force Labs program, a partnership between Hanscom Air Force Base; MassChallenge, a non-profit network of zero-equity startup accelerators; and the Air Force Research Laboratory, the showcase took place in person, giving Air Force personnel, Banshee participants, dual-use startups, innovation leaders and industry experts an opportunity to network and identify opportunities for collaboration.

“The value MassChallenge offers in sourcing companies for our problem statements has been instrumental over the years,” said Steve Wert, program executive officer for Digital. “We are learning about new offerings we otherwise would not be aware of, and I have brought aspects of the MassChallenge company evaluation and vetting process to our own acquisition strategy panel process.”

Astrolabe, Bavovna AI, Caliola Engineering, Confidencial, FluxWorks, Fortem Technologies, Gray Matters, Keycaliber, Little Place Labs, Sensoride, Skycom, Spectronn, SylLab Systems, Valgotech and WingXpand make up the fourth cohort to benefit from the specialized mentorship and support offered by MassChallenge and Air Force experts.

The showcase included pitches from 13 of the cohort’s 15 startups, as well as remarks from MassChallenge and Hanscom AFB leaders. It also featured a keynote panel discussion, providing the cohort with next steps and strategies to “identify, accelerate and deliver tools” to the warfighter, beyond seeking a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research award.

“These partnerships [between MassChallenge and the Air Force] are critical to identify, accelerate, and contract small businesses with novel technologies to diversify our military supplier base and expand upon our nation’s capabilities,” said Vijay Sekhara, MassChallenge director of Strategic Partnerships. “Together, both the Hanscom Innovation Team and MassChallenge offer avenues toward technology development, partnership, and funding for startups, empowering their founders and equipping our warfighters.”

PEO Digital’s technical director, Kevin Kelly, said PEO Digital is developing an innovation strategy to examine and address various mission needs. The 2023 Air Force Labs cohort resulted in seven potential matches to help support those needs.

“We want to foster development and encourage collaboration between these companies to accelerate the operational deployment of these capabilities for maintaining national security, deterring adversaries, and if necessary, to win wars,” he said.

Hanscom AFB’s Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks PEO is also pursuing potential opportunities for collaboration with three startups in the 2023 cohort.

Michelle Madaras, the president and co-founder of WingXpand, an unmanned aerial system “that expands from a backpack,” said her company was drawn to the Air Force Labs program because of its reputation for helping Phase I SBIR awardees mature to Phase II awards and beyond.

“Seeing all of the stakeholders here around the table listening and also coming up and asking questions, I think it honestly shows they’re interested in our products,” Madaras said. “I think we’re meeting a need and to kind of hear that from the end users specifically is super helpful. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing, to further innovation and get this into the hands of the warfighter.”

The 2023 Banshee cohort had an active role in supporting the six-week Air Force Labs accelerator program, including serving as judges in the startup selection process.

“I participated in a few of the judging panels,” said Capt. Jacob Gilbert, a program manager in PEO Digital’s Aerospace Management Division and a 2023 Banshee. “I looked at the novelty of the solutions and tried to identify possible connections and benefits to Air Force programs.”

Judson Clark, chief executive officer of Skycom, a Texas-based aerospace company, is hoping his unmanned high-altitude, lighter-than-air platforms can help support PEO Digitals’ mission needs.

“For us, with a multi-role aircraft, we really want people to feel creativity,” Clark said. “That’s why we were really drawn to working with Hanscom, because it put us in front of a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds and different perspectives who bring their own problems that they’re trying to solve.”

While the formal 2023 Banshee and Air Force Labs programs have concluded, Digital, C3I&N, the Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapon Systems, and the Hanscom Innovation Team will continue supporting the cohort as they coordinate memorandums of understanding and finalize Phase II SBIR proposals.

“Through partnerships like the one we have with MassChallenge, we’re able to bring together industry founders and capabilities that enable us to posture for competition and be successful,” said Chief Master Sgt. Alan Weary, Hanscom AFB’s installation command chief.

To learn more about the Hanscom AFB and MassChallenge partnership visit, https://masschallenge.org/programs-airforce/.