SAN ANTONIO, Texas – More than 2,000 small business, academic and government officials gathered Jan. 24-26 in San Antonio for Innovation Industry Days, a networking and educational event designed to foster partnerships and identify solutions to Department of the Air Force problems.
“Innovation Industry Days are all about collaboration and connection,” said Jadee Purdy, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center chief innovation officer.
With a focus on emerging technologies, Innovation Industry Days included training sessions, speakers and panels, and an expo hall with more than 150 vendors offering a glimpse into successful industry innovation projects helping Air Force or other Department of Defense agencies better execute their missions.
Airmen and Guardians are smart, innovative and talented, but opportunities to collaborate with industry and academia in order to think about problems “a little bit differently” is how the DAF is going to find the best solutions to some of their biggest problems, Purdy said.
“In many instances, Airmen and Guardians don’t even know what tools are out there, so bringing them all together creates awareness but also that in-person connection they can use to leverage later on that maybe doesn’t apply to their current challenge, but a challenge in the future,” she said.
AFIMSC and AFWERX, the innovation arm of the DAF, co-hosted the collider event at the at the Henry B. González Convention Center.
“We’ve had a very strong partnership with AFIMSC for a long time,” said Capt. Garrett Custons, spark branch chief at AFWERX.
While it’s hard to quantify cost-savings and capability gains from collider events, the connections and conversations that happen during the sessions often provide the biggest “return on investment” for attendees, he said, citing an example of a guard unit trying to implement a small unmanned aerial system program at its base.
They had funding and a problem to solve, “but they didn’t know what the rest of the Air Force was doing on the active-duty side. So, we connected them with some experts working on the sUAS program and now they’re going to collaborate,” Custons said.
The unit will now accelerate their program “somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-18 months,” because they won’t have to go through all the lessons learned the active-duty team had to go through. It was good to see collaboration happen and watch people get outside of their silos to reduce redundancies, share efficiencies, discuss new problem sets and work together, he said.
Throughout the event, many Airmen and Guardians made the most of their opportunities to network and hear about successes, failures and lessons learned to help identify paths for successfully implementing solutions for their mission needs.
“I met new people, made connections and learned a lot,” said Staff Sgt. Seun Kolawole, innovation superintendent for the 461st Air Control Wing spark cell at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.
Kolawole said learning more about the small business innovation research program and the different ways innovators can get funding to push ideas forward was especially valuable to him.
“I have to give kudos to AFIMSC and AFWERX for putting this together. This is just the beginning of greater success moving forward,” he said. “I hope Airmen and Guardians within the (innovation space) can continue to strive for greatness; the sky is only the starting point for us in the Air Force.”