The U.S. Department of Defense isn’t just bullets and bombs, said Jack Harwell.
A five-day October event — “Encountering Innovation,” which is organized by the DoD and the Small Business Development Center’s Kansas office — gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch innovative solutions to a panel of the DoD’s “tech scouts,” said Harwell, advisor at the SBDC.
Tech scouts — typically retired military officers — are contracted by the U.S. government to find new technology that could be used in some capacity for the defense of the country, he said.
With last year’s event in Wichita involving pitches relating to health and logistical systems, any range of ideas or products could have relevant military applications, he said.
“[There are] millions of people out there who depend on the DoD and in terms of a job — and they’re people, so they have people needs,” said Harwell. “I was in the Marines and we always said, ‘Beans, Band-Aids and bullets.’ It’s not only just the bullets, but it’s also to feed them, clothe them and keep them healthy.”
Encountering Innovation, set for Oct. 8-12, involves an all-day conference with DoD speakers, workshops to help the pitch presenters prepare, and a science fair-like day for all applicants, including those not picked to pitch, said Harwell.
It’s a contest everyone can win, he added.
The SBDC expects 100 applicants, though only 63 slots are open, with the application deadline coming Aug. 12, said Harwell, noting there is no cost to apply.
Entrepreneurs working at any level of development are welcome, he added.
“We’re really wanting anybody at any level to come,” said Harwell. “It has to be substantial enough to have some level of reality to it. It needs to be practical and based on some technology and not been done before, but we had people that presented last year that were in early stages of development.”
Whether or not the DoD taps the product or idea to move forward, the entrepreneurs can be put in contact with, or “socialized,” to other departments, with 14 of 57 applicants in 2017 sent up the government pipeline or connected to prime contractors, said Harwell.
More than half of the remaining applicants were picked up by the DoD, leaving a good success rate, he said.
“There were a couple of tech scouts who were so excited. I mean, literally just like on the phone immediately like, ‘You’ve got to see this!’ They just put those people in the right place quickly. Some take a lot longer because … it is the federal government,” said Harwell.
The SBDC, which is housed at Johnson County Community College, is always open for advice or consulting free of charge for all entrepreneurs, working from existing businesses to startups, he said.