DHS Contracting Initiative Benefits All Involved
Innovation program provides contractors a decision within one day.
Four startup companies came together at the AFCEA Homeland Security Conference to praise their experience with the DHS Science and Technology Silicon Valley Innovation Program. This program has reduced contracting decision timeframes from 18 months or more to one day. The companies originally did not plan on contracting with the government because of its slow and onerous processes, although they each had technology of value to DHS.
DHS, through this innovation program, is trying to reach out to startups and young companies to bring their technology into an operation environment as soon as possible, said Dr. Douglas Maughan, director, Cybersecurity Division, Homeland Security Advanced Research Project Agency. Maughan explained that DHS sought to solve two problems with this program. One, was education, because startups don’t always think of the government as a customer they want, and two, was funding. The value proposition for a startup is up to $800,000 and up to 24 months. DHS wants the technology into the operation environment as soon as possible.
The program’s process for startups begins with submitting a 10-page application, which DHS evaluates on monthly basis. If the department approves the application, the startup is invited to provide a 15-minute pitch, which is followed by DHS asking 15 minutes of questions. The department makes its decision on the same day of the pitch. This took the evaluation process down to 30 minutes, he exclaimed.
“We are doing contracting in 30 to 45 days, and our fastest has been 10 days,” said Dr. Maughan. This is streamlined transaction authority.
The program has received 220 applications, 40 pitches and funded more than 20 companies, and it can accept international applications. DHS is seeking nontraditional performers.
One of the startups is Planck Aerosystems, and Josh Wells, the cofounder and CEO, described starting the drone autonomy company with friends in his garage. With a number of smaller boats in operation, the group had identified a need to launch UAVs from vessels smaller than 30 feet. Solving the problem took three years, he stated, but the technology now is maturing.
“We came out of a defense background and swore off government business,” explained Wells. “We were not going to waste our time and effort chasing contracts that might be 18 months in the future. But I became aware of opportunity through personal network. It sounded too good to be true.”
Wells said there are two big things DHS is doing right with the program. First, he said transparency and efficiency in contracting were good, and second it was good to have access to the operation level for people to test. Planck Aerosystems had a loaner vehicle to work with and is able to test it with the help of border agents.
“I too was skeptical at first,” said Jeff Finan, vice president, business development, Echodyne, another startup in the program. “But I was surprised at how quick things moved," he added. “The CTO and I completed the application. The process to pitch was streamlined. That built in confidence that this might be different on how to procure technology. It has been a model program.”
Other agencies should take a hard look at this process, he recommended, because it is collaborative, streamlined and has made contracting simple.
More information on the program is available online.