WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s innovation advisory board wants feedback from businesses and investment firms about how can better partner with private companies to spur growth in critical technology areas.
The Board’s strategic investment capital task force released a survey Wednesday seeking input from a spectrum of companies about the challenges the non-traditional business sector faces in partnering with the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We really need to talk to people outside the department,” Will Roper, a member of the board and the chair of the task force, said during a Feb. 1 meeting. “It’s not just startups, which you would guess we would do. We really need to speak with investors. We also need to speak with defense companies that have been working with us for decades about how they view working with companies that have a different track record than just being part of the defense industrial base.”
The survey will inform a broader study, directed by Undersecretary of Defense Heidi Shyu, that considers how the department can better mobilize private capital investment toward technology areas that are critical to national security. These include areas like hypersonics and directed energy as well as semiconductors and biotechnology.
The study, which Shyu called for in a Dec. 15 memo, follows the Pentagon’s creation of the Office of Strategic Capital, or OSC, on Dec. 1. The office’s goal is to drive private sector investment in key technology areas to help the military services field new technology faster.
The Defense Department has struggled to transition technology from the commercial sector to military users. Organizations like the Defense Innovation Unit and the Air Force’s AFWERX help create partnerships between these companies and the Pentagon, but OSC’s focus is on directing seed funding to increase investment in deep technology areas steeped in science and engineering advances.
Jason Rathje, director of the new office, told the board during its meeting this week that many of his early conversations with investors have focused on describing that difference.
“There is a lot of work that organizations like AFWERX and DIU are doing to help transition commercial technology into the things that we buy,” he said. “But those conversations are inherently different than seeding and changing the economics in the deep technology community to get after some of these other areas in the economy – areas that are deep within our supply chain, but areas that we certainly need to have advantages in from a supply chain perspective.”
Rathje said his team hopes to release its first investment strategy this summer, which will evaluate liquidity opportunities within each of the Pentagon’s 14 critical technology areas.
“What this does is it really helps us to tip and cue these tools to invest in the technology sectors that most require this source of capital,” he said.
The office is also taking advantage of a recent partnership between DoD and the Small Business Administration to help fund and incubate high-need technologies. The effort, dubbed the Small Business Investment Company Critical Technologies Initiative, was announced Dec. 3 and will offer loan guarantees to new private investment funds. Rathje said OSC will start taking applications from companies in June.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.