Roper Unveils AFVentures, Announces Nearly $1B in Small Business Contracts

Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition Will Roper recently announced the creation of AFVentures, which will serve as an “umbrella organization for the Air Force’s efforts to work with small businesses to fund critical technologies for the warfighter,” according to a release.

“I’m here today to tell you that launching AFVentures and making this successful is the most important thing we’re going to do,” he said during the 2020 Spark Collider and Pitch Bowl. The event, which originally was supposed to span three days, was converted into a single-day, online event in an effort to halt the spread of the new coronavirus virus.

Small-business investment is key to widening the nation’s industrial base and maintaining its competitive edge, Roper said.

“If we’re not working with the best innovators in the world, then we will lose the technology advantage that we have,” he said. “Getting this right is not just innovation, it is imperative.”

The organization is a joint endeavor between the service’s Small Business Innovation Research/Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) Program, USAF’s in-house innovation incubator AFWERX, and Air Force Acquisitions, the release stated.

AFVentures’ organization chart is being developed, but retired USAF Maj. Gen. David O’Brien, director of acquisition venture strategy and initiatives, will lead the initiative, AFWERX Marketing Manager Jordyn Fetter told Air Force Magazine via email. He will report to Roper.

During this year’s event, Roper also said the service intends to divvy up almost $1 billion in contracts among “more than 550 small businesses.”

Part of that total will tentatively go to companies who pitched their groundbreaking ideas as part of the March 12 event. A total of 88 phase I SBIR companies pitched a follow-on phase II project.

“Final numbers on selects and contracts are not available yet, but will be coming soon,” Fetter said

About half of those funds are expected to go to 21 “big bet” organizations in the form of four-year, fixed-price contracts awarded via AFVentures’ Strategic Financing Program (or STRATFI), the release said. These recipients were chosen ahead of time and had their ideas showcased at the March 12 event, Fetter explained.

According to the release, the “combined $550-plus million” in financial backing will be composed of “$100-plus million in SBIR funds,” more than $100 million from USAF, and over $350 million from private investors, the release explained, adding that Roper anticipates “future rounds of funding will be bigger.”

Here are the 20 big-bets that have been named so far, along with the ideas that won them the funding, according to Fetter:

Firm NameProject Title
Aerial Applications Bundled 5G UAV hardware with analytics for environmental management using photogrammetry and VAST, a Codeless AI Search Engine
Analytical Space Inc. Deployment of a high-speed data relay and content delivery network for commercial and government GEOINT collection platforms in Low Earth Orbit
Anduril Industries, Inc. Advanced Battle Management System sensing network
Applied Minds, LLC AI/Data fusion approaches to human-machine interfaces
Edgybees Inc. Augmented Reality geospatial intelligence underlay system
Elroy Air, Inc.Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS)
Enview Tactical organic geospatial AI platform for forward deployed airmen
Essentium Inc.Advanced additive manufacturing for the Airman
Falkonry Inc. Enterprise automated machine learning for predictive operations across weapons systems and targeting organizations
ICON Technology, Inc. Construction scale 3D printing for the Air Force
Orbital Insight, Inc. Collaborating with the Air Force to support global persistent awareness through accessible machine learning technologies
Orbital Sidekick, Inc. Enhanced global persistent awareness enabled by a constellation of six hyperspectral SmallSats
Pison Technology Target Rectification Assistance for Combat Efficiency (TRACE)
Privoro Privoro SafeCase Inc. Air Force industry immersion training program
Swarm Technologies, Inc.Swarm private satellite network: enabling global Air Force resiliency
Tectus CorporationAugmented Reality contact lens
Virtualitics, Inc. Portfolio-level Digital Engineering Platform (PDEP) at Air Force Global Strike Command
Wafer LLC NorthRing LEO satellite terminals demonstration and deployment
Wickr, Inc. Secure communications capabilities to fill gaps at the tactical edge and higher classification levels