Contracts Awarded in Minutes Not Months
First Pitch Day results in fast funding for small businesses.
The U.S. Air Force awarded 51 companies contracts with a total initial value of $8.75 million at the Inaugural Air Force Pitch Day. The average amount of time to award contracts and pay companies via government credit card following a successful pitch was 15 minutes; the fastest occurred in only three minutes. Previously, the fastest award of a contract of this type was approximately 90 days.
The Pitch Day, which took place March 6-7 in New York City, was modeled after commercial investment pitch competitions. It focuses on rapidly awarding Phase I Small Business Innovation Research contracts and is a faster approach to viewing competing ideas and delivering them to warfighters. Air Force contracting officials reviewed 417 submissions and invited 59 businesses to pitch their proposals in person.
The second day of the event served as a broader platform where companies were invited to pitch to organizations other than the Air Force. More than 500 attendees from government, industry, academia, venture capital and investment communities participated.
Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, USAF, vice chief of staff, Air Force, emphasizes that lowering barriers to access enables the Air Force to deliver speed of capability to the battlefield. “Events such as Pitch Day allow us to connect small businesses to the operator, then to a real problem, and bring those two together to build a partnership,” Gen. Wilson says.
According to Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, developing a same-day payment method via government credit card is key to helping businesses see the Air Force as a preferred partner to growth.
“The fact that these small businesses don’t have to go get loans, or bridges, waiting for that 120 days to get on contract is a big deal. It means they can focus immediately on working with us, understanding our users, delivering for the warfighter,” Roper says.
“For those who think using a credit card is a gimmick, they need to come down and work with companies for whom money matters. And for the size companies we saw this week, that paycheck today means they are now focused on our mission and not making payroll,” he adds.
The week before Pitch Day, the Air Force community prepared for the event through a series of rapid contracting sprints, awarding 122 Phase I SBIR contracts totaling $6 million. It also awarded 69 Phase II SBIR contracts totaling $60 million, 11 of which featured government matching contributions and five contracts with private matching. During the entire week, including Pitch Day, the Air Force awarded 242 SBIR contracts valued at $75 million.
Roper identified the next challenge for the Air Force is to organize to do this type of activity at scale. “We have to do this across the country, across all places that do Air Force acquisition,” he says. “Now that we’ve wrung all the lessons out of the process, we’re ready to box it up as a tool that can be executed by the work force out in the field.”