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Innovation Rodeo moves ideas closer to reality

  • Published
  • By Debbie Aragon
  • AFIMSC Public Affairs

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- Three innovative ideas that support worldwide warfighter success are one step closer to reality today thanks to the first Air Force Innovation Rodeo, $650,000 in total seed money, and a partnership with AFWERX and tech accelerator companies.

During the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center Innovation Rodeo, similar to the Air Force’s Spark Tank and national television’s Shark Tank, a panel of five senior Air Force leaders in the installation and mission support community watched eight presentations before selecting the three ideas they feel will increase the speed and agility of the Air Force while providing a cost savings for taxpayers.  

The first Innovation Rodeo was very competitive, said Maj. Gen. Brad Spacy, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center commander. 

“The teams got here because they all had great ideas,” Spacy said. “What had some rising to the top was a combination of applicability, having thought through what it’s going to take to get to market and the ability to use funds available to cover that gap.” 

He said the Air Force would still invest in pitches that fell outside those parameters, just not through the Innovation Rodeo program.

The three winners are: 
First Place – “What’s Up” App for base event announcements submitted by Col. Houston Cantwell, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado, and presented by Cantwell and USAFA Cadet Yann Wollman. 

Spacy said the panel was so excited about the potential of the app that he is adding another $50,000 of seed money to bring the idea to fruition; giving the team a total of $250,000.

Wollman, with Squadron 36, said winning the rodeo was surreal. 

“I’m still so speechless. We are just following what our superintendent told us about innovation: go out there and break barriers. This is a wonderful opportunity and we’re so grateful to be able to partner with AFIMSC,” Wollman said. “We’re ready to get together at the Academy and start prototyping and testing it out there and refining the idea.” 

Second Place – Leverage existing Geospatial Information System AI learning for Facility Roof Inspections submitted by 2nd Lt. Alexander Bow of the 627th Civil Engineer Squadron, JB-Lewis McChord, Washington; and Capt. Gregory Hege, Air Force Central Command, Al Udeid, Qatar. Hege is deployed, and Bow presented with 1st Lt. Tim Sobieski of the 627th Air Base Group, JBLM.

Third Place – See Something, Star Something App to allow crowdsourced feedback on contractors working for the Air Force submitted by Roger Westermeyer, Air Force Installation Contracting Agency enterprise sourcing support director at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. The pitch was presented by 773rd Enterprise Sourcing Squadron’s Lt. Col. Karen Landale and Maj. Tom Kellermann, who are stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

The road to the Innovation Rodeo began just two months ago when AFIMSC partnered with AFWERX. It’s the center’s first major innovation event since standing up a full-time innovation office in November. AFWERX, the Air Force’s primary innovation entity, allowed AFIMSC to use IdeaScale, an ideation software platform, for its “Call for Innovation” campaign.

During the Jan. 1-31 event, Airmen were encouraged to submit ideas for crowdsourcing votes – up for good ideas or down for those having less merit. 

“Anyone with a vested interested in the installation and mission support area were allowed to log in, submit ideas and vote,” said Marc Vandeveer, AFIMSC chief innovation officer, “and we received a great response.”

When the call ended, Airmen had submitted 122 ideas and the top eight vote getters advanced to the Innovation Rodeo. 

Through crowdsourcing and collaboration, the Innovation Rodeo approach is very different than previous ways of doing business, Vandeveer said. 

“It’s different because we have a dedicated budget to fund those AFWERX challenges,” Vandeveer said. “We’re not just going to let them stagnate.” 

AFIMSC wanted to break down barriers to new ideas and the Innovation Rodeo was born, he said.

The Air Force has a service-wide innovation campaign, Spark Tank, but most of the ideas pitched are geared toward aircraft and the maintenance activities connected to them with only a few ideas related to mission support areas, he added. 

“We support installation and mission support Airmen as a headquarters so we wanted to do something targeted on those Airmen and decided to do our own Spark Tank and call it Innovation Rodeo,” Vandeveer said.

The three winning teams of “intrapreneurs” will now take their winnings to run through the AFWERX process. They won’t just pitch their ideas and walk away; they are dedicated to seeing their ideas through from prototype to implementation and institutionalization across the Air Force, Vandeveer said. 

“Ultimately, if we don’t implement an idea, we’re not adding value to our organization and the Air Force,” he added.

This year’s rodeo competition may be over but that doesn’t mean idea collection stops.
The time to submit new ideas isn’t just during big innovation events, Spacy said. 

“It’s tomorrow and the next day and the day after that … this is our commitment to the Air Force: to find innovation at the base level and get it to market,” he said. “We don’t want Airmen to wait for the next big challenge; we want them to find us now and bring us that innovation … don’t wait for next year.

“Innovation is where it’s at. The Air Force, by design, is an innovative organization. What we’ve done is create the process and the opportunities for all these young minds to get those innovations – those things they think about – to reality,” Spacy said.



The other five teams, whose ideas will continue to be explored for possible implementation, are:

• Installation Access Control of the Future with Artificial Intelligence Facial Recognition submitted by Lt. Col. Carlos Hernandez, Air Force Security Forces Center at JBSA-Lackland, and Lt. Col. Jeff Fisher, 31st Contracting Squadron, Aviano AB, Italy. Hernandez and Lt. Col. Jesse Goens of the 31st Security Forces Squadron at Aviano provided the pitch.

• Virtual Visitor Control Center and Visitor Kiosk submitted and presented by 2nd Lt. D.J. Smith, 502nd Communications Squadron at JBSA-Lackland; Steven Dews, 502nd SFS at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston; Tech. Sgt. Brian Lawley, 802nd SFS at JBSA-Lackland; and Senior Master Sgt. Alvin Arguello, AFSFC.

• Supply Inventory Management System App submitted by Master Sgt. Nicole Haun with the 87th Mission Support Group at JB McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, which was presented by Haun and JoyLab’s Jade Baranski, the chief executive officer, and Jerry Ramey, the chief technology officer.

• Self-adjusting Wide Area Detection using Unmanned Ground and Aerial Vehicles, which was submitted and presented by John Shackell, AFSFC.

• Emergency Airfield Lighting System Auxiliary Motor Upgrade, submitted and presented by Senior Airman Jordan Pitts, 319th CES, Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota.
The judging panel included Spacy; Lorna Estep, AFIMSC executive director; Brig. Gen. Brian Bruckbauer, AFIMSC director of expeditionary support; Brig. Gen. Alice Trevino, commander of the Air Force Installation Contracting Agency; and Heidi Scheppers, deputy director of Air Force security forces.

With the success of the inaugural Innovation Rodeo, AFIMSC will make it an annual event.

“We want to our Airmen to understand that there’s an Air Force Spark Tank event and aggressively submit their ideas through there as well, because they use the same platform we do, but we’re also going to continue with our event each year so we can continue providing visibility for our Airmen and show if they have an idea at the base level that there is an avenue and a will from leadership to implement those ideas,” Vandeveer said.