On the heels of a widely acclaimed 2018 inaugural , and the U.S. are announcing the of the autonomous technology to include additional technology areas, the addition of a corporate sponsor,  and the enhancement of the complementary version of the SBIR program aimed at funding companies.

The Techstars Autonomous Technology Accelerator with the U.S. Air Force, held in Boston Q1 2018, was an experiment by the Air Force in establishing closer ties to the most innovative early startup companies with commercially viable products that the Air Force found compelling. AFWERX, the sponsoring program office, determined that the pace of innovation in the private sector is accelerating away from the military.  To maintain dominance, the Air Force needs to engage startups that otherwise avoid DoD bureaucracy, by adapting Air Force business processes to match the commercial world, not the other way around. The first program, closely monitored by senior Air Force leadership, accelerated 10 cutting-edge companies who have gone on to win DoD contracts, commercial proof-of-concept projects, private investment, and are on the verge of fielding state-of-the-art products to warfighters.

“We were encouraged by the disruptive innovations produced by the first class,” said Captain Steve Lauver, Director of Technology Accelerators at AFWERX.  “As we aggressively seek to improve our sales cycles, processes, and the speed at which we transition promising technology to the warfighter, it is invaluable to have an experienced and respected partner, like Techstars, to help us build trust and interact seamlessly with the startup ecosystem.”

Seeing the potential to deliver innovations to the warfighter “at the speed of relevancy”, several additional Air Force offices have signed up to support the program.  With the additions of the Air Education and Training Command (AETC), and MD5 to the Air Force Research Lab Small Business Office (AFRL/SB), AFRL Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation Office (AFRL/SPDE), and Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center (AFNWC), AFWERX and Techstars concluded that it would be beneficial to broaden the Boston program into the Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars. The Boston program will again be run by Warren Katz, Managing Director, and Conrad Hollomon, Program Director.

Techstars is also delighted to that the most prolific corporate contributor to the first program, BAE Systems, who provided mentorship and paid pilot projects for several program participants, has joined the program as a formal sponsor.  As such, BAE Systems will fully participate in the recruiting and selection process, and have close interactions with all the participant companies during program. More on BAE Systems’ FAST LabsTM research and development can be found here

“BAE Systems is committed to lending our technical expertise, market knowledge and resources to startups in support of the local innovation ecosystems,” said Dr. Jerry M. Wohletz, Vice President and General Manager of FAST Labs at BAE Systems. “Teaming up with Techstars supports our goal of leveraging and developing disruptive technologies to deliver discrimination discriminating solutions to our customers at the speed of innovation.”   

To support the seamless purchase of prototypes and products produced by companies going through the accelerator, AFRL has been experimenting with a new variant of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.  Air Force solicitations 18.2 and 18.3 offered special topics that utilized massively simplified proposal formats, accelerated award cycles, and a Phase II structure that resembles commercial product purchase orders as opposed to defense-contractor style labor contracts.  In conjunction with the 2019 accelerator program, the Air Force intends to expand the number of topics and funding amounts for this new commercially-oriented SBIR.

The Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars will focus on commercially viable startups with dual-purpose technologies– a private sector application as well as government application, including companies with autonomous technology that might enable or enhance the ability to detect, track, identify, characterize, attribute or mitigate unmanned systems, to include, but not limited to, sensor technology, high-performance computational hardware and software, computer vision and digital image processing, AI, multi-modal sensor integration, secure communications, trusted identification, power systems, high-performance materials, integration systems, and human machine interface.  In addition, we seek companies with innovative immersive-training technologies, to include AR/VR and adult learning methods such as gamification, social delivery and self-directed learning, and technologies to support data-enabled recruiting, training and education.

Stay tuned for updates on Air Force Accelerator Powered by Techstars meet ups, webinars, and news on the application process.

Interested in this program? Applications are open.

Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Through the Techstars Worldwide Entrepreneur Network, founders and their teams connect with other entrepreneurs, experts, mentors, alumni, investors, community leaders, and corporate partners who will help their companies grow.  Techstars accelerator portfolio includes more than 1580 companies with a market cap of $16.1B.

Established in 2017 by the SECAF and reporting to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, AFWERX is a catalyst for agile Air Force engagement across industry, academia, and non-traditional contributors to create transformative opportunities and foster an Air Force culture of innovation.  The core mission of AFWERX is to improve Air Force capabilities by connecting innovators, simplifying technology transfer, and accelerating results.

BAE Systems

BAE Systems provides some of the world’s most advanced, technology-led defense, aerospace, and security solutions. The company employs a skilled workforce of 83,200 people in more than 30 countries. Working with customers and local partners, BAE Systems develops, engineers, manufactures, and supports products and systems to deliver military capability, protect national security and people, and keep critical information and infrastructure secure.



Warren Katz Warren Katz
Warren Katz is the Managing Director for the Techstars Autonomous Technology Accelerator with U.S. Air Force. He co-founded MÄK Technologies in 1990, a leading global vendor of military simulation software. He is an avid mentor and angel investor at both Techstars and Bolt, with expertise in how to fund companies using government contracts. He is a noted industry advocate of open interoperability standards and commercial business models in Department of Defense procurement.





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