Innovative accelerator helps second cohort advance Published May 18, 2021 By Jessica Casserly 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – The second iteration of The U.S. Air Force Labs with MassChallenge program culminated in a virtual showcase on Zoom May 14. The event focused on advancing the 10 startups in the accelerator’s second cohort. It also featured a keynote address from Jennifer Santos, principal director for Strategic Initiatives in National Security & Space for Draper Labs, and a ‘lightning’ chat with representatives from AFWERX and MassChallenge. “Forums like this accelerator provide all participants with insight into the differences between commercial and government business practices, which is critical to successfully bring technology into the Department of Defense,” said Brian Carr, director of innovation for the Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks. Capt. Matthew Ruden, chief innovation officer for PEO Digital, acknowledged that it takes time and patience to understand the DOD landscape and opportunities like this give startups a boost. “Innovation officers from the sponsoring directorates spent time with the cohort during weekly ‘collider’ events and tag-ups,” he said. “This allowed the cohort to ask specific questions ranging from good invoicing practices to Air Force organizational structure.” Rohit Gupta, Sentenai co-founder and CEO, said these interactions were “extremely helpful” and provided strong connections as he and his team continue working to identify potential partners within the defense community for their SBIR Phase II application. “We had meaningful conversations with dozens of prospective customers that are still ongoing today,” he said. “The program was very focused on how to improve our ability to commercialize successfully within the Air Force and how to discuss and promote collaboration with customers.” The senior vice president of MassChallenge Early Stage, Cait Brumme, said the program has three basic goals, which are based on both Air Force and startup needs. “The first goal of the Air Force Labs program is dedicated community. This is not a simple system, so community helps individuals find mentorship and connections that help them navigate more effectively. The second is curated expertise from those who know how to overcome specific barriers or solve certain problems. And the last is a relentless focus on the startups’ strategic goals,” she said. Brumme emphasized that MassChallenge is proud to be part of the movement around defense innovation and a partner in connecting defense, startups and local innovation ecosystems to help the DOD stay competitive. Sean Luangrath, the CEO of Inergy, and his team are pursuing a memorandum of understanding with PEO Digital in the area of power generation and storage. “Inergy is working with the Integrated Base Defense Security Systems Modernization Branch to propose upgrading their Tactical Sensor suite of capabilities to be more flexible and versatile,” he said. Trevor Smith, president and CEO of Atomic-6, an Atlanta-based startup specializing in manufacturing low-cost-high-performance next generation composite parts, said his team is completing the program with support from the Air Force Research Laboratory and Kratos Defense. “The true value in the Air Force Labs with MassChallenge program is its specific goal to help companies successfully transition into a [SBIR] Phase II project,” said Smith. “Atomic-6 is extremely honored to have both AFRL and Kratos supporting our efforts.” Marissa McCoy, MITRE's Air Force cyber operations portfolio chief of staff, said maintaining the relationships developed during the program is core to ensuring the best capabilities mature and can transition quickly. “It’s exciting to see the progress of the teams in such a short span of time,” she said. “The Hanscom team will continue to track the progress of the teams and build on the connections that have already been established.” The cohort has until June 3 to finalize their Phase II SBIR proposals and secure signed memoranda of understanding or letters of support from Hanscom, AFRL or other Air Force program offices. The next iteration of the accelerator is tentatively planned for fall 2021. To learn more about the U.S. Air Force Lab with MassChallenge partnership, visit http://apply.masschallenge.org/en/usaf.