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‘Spark Tank’ competition ignites innovative ideas

  • Published
  • By Kevan Goff-Parker, Staff Writer

Tinker Air Force Base’s Spark Tank Competition on Feb. 1 at the Tinker Club featured four individuals or groups, known as “sparkers,” who vied for $110,000 in 72nd Air Base Wing Innovation Funds for the best idea to help the Air Force become more innovative as it addresses its mission to “Fly, Fight and Win.”

The Spark Tank Competition paralleled the popular TV show, “Shark Tank,” but instead of a millionaire investing in what’s considered the next hot product or service, sparkers had five minutes to pitch their innovative ideas and five minutes to answer questions from the five Spark Tank judges.

The criteria for winning is based on how well the innovative ideas address the Air Force’s need to increase readiness, reduce cost, return time to Airmen or enhance the lethality of the Air Force.

The competitors’ presentations included: “ePrograms,” an initiative to eliminate hard copies of ceremony programs and replace them with digital programs using a mobile software application; “Tinker Tower Tablets,” an initiative for the funding of computer tablets for a mobile, single-source solution to assist with the air traffic control training; “Wireless Fidelity,” an initiative from Curriculum Development and Delivery Office to increase productivity, engagement, satisfaction and efficiency by providing improved Wi-Fi capabilities and “Developing True Grit in our Community,” an initiative by the Tinker Health Promotion Team to fund a marketing campaign with materials and incentive items, Table Talk materials and more.

After the presentations, lead Spark Tank Judge Col. Eddie Taylor, 72nd ABW vice commander, led the charge in deliberations with the rest of the judges. The judges included Chief Master Sgt. Melissa Erb, 72nd ABW command chief; Lt. Col. Amer Mahmud, 72nd ABW Staff Judge Advocate; Cheryl Robitaille, 72nd ABW Comptroller Squadron, deputy comptroller; and Deborah Smith, 72nd Contracting Squadron, operational contracting branch chief.

Before the winner was announced, Taylor praised the sparkers for a great job and said everyone had interesting concepts and he liked the way presenters were considering technology to “solve some of our problems.” He also surprised the competitors when he said there is a possibility all the ideas may be funded.
“I’ll announce the winner of our Spark Tank competition, but also say, we may have enough funding for all of the projects, given the price tags associated with the ideas.”

He also described how the judges made their decision on the winning idea.
“We wanted something that was a little innovative, something they put some thought into and in saving money because some of these items can just be put into your budget or added to your unfunded list for eventual funding,” Taylor said. “Spark Tank was for thinking of a way to improve a process, get rid of waste or something like that in an innovative manner.”

“The one that definitely had the most potential was Senior Master Sgt. Zamorano’s e-programs idea … it’s in the early stages, but I think he’ll do the hard work to finish fleshing it out. This is an innovative-type contest, not only presentation, but also innovation, so he was the clear winner.”

Taylor then signed a big check and the crowd applauded when Senior Master Sgt. Francisco Zamorano, 72nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, superintendent, won approximately $50,000 in Innovations Funds for his first-place e-Programs idea.

Taylor reminded Zamorano that we had limited time to execute the funding so Zamorano needed to get the appropriate homework done to finalize the idea.
“I like the idea,” he said. “It’s great because it capitalizes on technology, allowing folks to keep and even share the program with family and friends, while also saving on printing costs.”

Zamorano said his idea is to eliminate hard copy event programs and slash the cost associated with developing print programs by transforming those hard copies into digital programs so celebration attendees can access a downloadable event program through their mobile devices, possibly using a QR code.
“It depends on what other computer programs are pre-existing and we could piggyback onto one of those other pre-existing programs. That would be ideal,” Zamorano said.

Spark Tank evolved out of the Air Force’s project known as the AFWERX Challenge which was directly envisioned by Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. For more information about the AFWERX Challenge, visit