Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett speaks throughout the initiation of the U.S. Air Force Space Pitch Day, Nov. 5, 2019, San Francisco.
Senior Airman Christian Conrad | U.S. Air Force
SAN FRANCISCO — Outside a hotel ballroom in the heart of downtown San Francisco, the U.S. Air Force awarded $22.5 million in government contracts to small businesses focused on space technology.
The two-day inaugural event, dubbed Space Pitch Day, is a break from the standard months-long government contract procedure. Rather, the Air Force’s strategy was to design an occasion to give small business owners the chance to meet with and pitch their ideas directly to the military’s acquisition team out the Pentagon.
After their pitches, the Air Force had the chance to expand an on-the-spot government deal. What is more, companies could then receive first payment from the contract by means of a government credit swipe a square reader.
The drive for an unlikely venue and unusual contract procedure are credited to Will Roper, the Air Force’s acquisition mind.
“It’s not enough to develop and procure systems anymore. We’ve got to get in the business of buying ideas and generating ideas,” Roper told a small group of colleagues in San Francisco. “That’s part of what we are doing here, we want to be where innovation is happening,” he explained.
Before the Air Force rolled out the Pitch Day series, Roper bristled at the idea that critics may question the procedure. He clarified that while the rapid rate will probably come as a surprise for people accustomed to hearing about government waste in the acquisition process, this event was tailored to small companies that need immediate funding.
“For those that think the credit card is a gimmick, well, they need to come down and work with companies for whom money matters,” Roper stated earlier this season. “That paycheck today means they are now focused on our mission and not making payroll,” he added, noting that differently, companies would need to take loans out in the months leading up to getting government contracts.
Dr. Will Roper, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, logistics and technology, speaks to a crowd of little companies, venture capitalists, and Airmen throughout the Inaugural Air Force Pitch Day in Manhattan, New York, March 7, 2019.
Tech Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.. | US Air Force
Before this year, the Air Force encouraged 75 firms to submit a written pitch which was subsequently vetted by a group of contracting officers. After the preliminary pitch, the Air Force encouraged 30 firms to present in Space Pitch Day at San Francisco.
All 30 firms were granted an on-the-spot contract worth $750,000 each after their pitch. Of these 30 companies, eight were chosen by the Air Force to compete for additional funds of around $3 million.
Within minutes of signing a government contract, each firm received payment by means of a square charge card reader.
“This is not the usual pace of the United States government,” Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett said kicking off the event. “The bottom line is we need you and the creativity that you bring,” she said to the area of business owners and investors.
“We have to transition from an industrial age model of acquisition to something more modern,” stated U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson, who oversees a $7 billion funding for space acquisition and research. “Gone are the days where all of the innovation and all of the technology comes from the Department of Defense,” he added.
While the event in San Francisco was concentrated on distance, the Air Force has held several Pitch Day events around the nation. The first-ever Pitch Day took place in March at the neon heart of New York .
The Air Force awarded more than 200 contracts valued at $75 million over the course of a week at Times Square.
Generally, the Air Force awarded a contract and made the initial payment via government charge card swipe 15 minutes. The fastest happened in only 3 minutes. Prior to Pitch Day, the fastest service contract award took three months.