TAMPA, Fla. — Since 2020, a small business innovation program used by U.S. Special Operations Command has doubled the speed at which proposals from this slice of the industry see their pitches become prototypes in operators’ hands, officials said.
That’s according to data shared by Leslie Babich, director of the special operations forces nonprofit SOFWERX. The entity serves as a public-private partnership that also has its own small-scale laboratory and “foundry” for manufacturing, based out of Ybor City, Florida.
Babich, alongside Glen Cullen, program manager at SOF Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, shared the figures and other details during a session at Global SOF Foundation’s SOF Week here. The session was aimed at teaching industry, and especially small businesses, how to work with the organization to get their ideas to operators and units in need.
Since its creation in 2015, the SOFWERX program has contracted $116.1 million in 749 purchase orders and business-to-business agreements, according to SOCOM,
The nonprofit has used the small business innovation research program, which extends to research and development across all federal agencies, to fuel some of this outreach, Babich said.
Until 2020, the average annual proposals from small businesses received by SOCOM through SOFWERX numbered fewer than 20. That number doubled the following year and remained at that level since.
But the number isn’t necessarily the focus, it’s the accelerated timeline that draws attention.
The average lifespan of a proposal to prototype ran 40 months. That’s been cut by nearly half to slightly more than 22 months, Babich said.
“We’re faster; we can award agreements within three to four weeks versus three to four months,” she said.
And SOFWERX is seeing more proposals from nontraditional vendors within industry, many who’d never previously sought out defense contracts.
A likely helpful change was when Lisa Sanders, director of science and technology at SOCOM, got approval from Congress to spend up to 10% of her office’s annual $20 million budget for small businesses through SOFWERX, Babich said.
That’s only $2 million, but those dollars can make a substantial impact on smaller companies, she said. And the figure has grown.
During an earlier presentation Bill Innes, deputy director for acquisitions at U.S. Special Operations Command, noted about one-third, or $1.38 billion of SOCOM’s annual acquisition budget for fiscal 2022, was spent on small business contract awards.
Babich also said efforts aimed at explaining to industry how to work with the SOCOM and establishing a regular one-on-one pitch session for innovative ideas helped accelerate the process.
Those efforts translated into a small business boot camp, both in-person and online, which walks new small business staff through the contracting process.
In May 2020, SOFWERX launched “Tech Tuesday,” which serves as a forum for individuals to present technologies to SOCOM and other government agencies in an online call.
Industry participants get 15 minutes to pitch followed by 10 minutes of questions. Beyond defense programs, the calls often include agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, Babich said.
But it’s not a guarantee, she cautioned.
“Tech Tuesday is not like ‘Shark Tank;’ nobody gets funding at the end of the day,” she said. “However, it might spark some ideas for those government stakeholders.”
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.