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Working with small businesses is a priority for the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD), said key small business representatives attending the recent Fathomwerx Summit at Fathomwerx Lab at the Port of Hueneme in California.
The message at the September 14-15 event was clear: The Department of the Navy (DON) is seeking innovative technologies from small businesses to help scale and transfer critical capabilities to the warfighter.
NSWC PHD, which is a partner in the offsite innovation and collaboration space known as Fathomwerx Lab, is also looking to expand its partnerships with small businesses to meet both federal requirements and the needs of warfighters. .
“Growing the small business industrial base, including local small businesses, is critical to the continued success of the NSWC PHD,” said Dan Mahan, Command Deputy for Small Business, who attended the two-day summit. “This growth is a never-ending pursuit, as some of our small business entrepreneurs will likely be financially successful enough to achieve big business status in the near future.
“(My) attendance at the Fathomwerx Summit was particularly helpful in my quest to find small businesses to add to my electronic Rolodex,” Mahan added. “There were several vendors I interviewed who showed interest and ability to succeed as an entrepreneur at NSWC PHD. Time will tell, as growing our industry base is a marathon, not a sprint.
Connections at the top
Just over 340 people from across the country attended the summit, which included technology demonstrations as well as daily breakout sessions aimed at helping small businesses do business with DON.
The Office of Naval Agility (NavalX), which reports to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy’s operational branch for research, development, and acquisition, hosted the briefings, which included topics such as programs of DON’s small business engagement and navigation from product to contract with DON.
NavalX operates 18 technology bridges based internationally and in the United States, which create a network of partners to bridge the gap between technology innovators in the private sector, the Department of Defense and academia, and mission owners of navy and navy with problems to solve. Fathomwerx Lab was designated as Ventura Tech Bridge in May 2020.
Ventura Tech Bridge Director Alan Jaeger told summit attendees, “We’re aligning a number of different things to try to have these meaningful collaborations to accelerate fleet and fighter capabilities. Having a solid industrial base will be essential in the future. It will also be important to have economic partners who can engage with small businesses.
“We all speak a different language, whether we’re in government, academia or industry,” Jaeger added. “We need to understand how we can all work together to make everyone stronger.”
He advised small businesses to attend events like the Fathomwerx summit and other government-organized industry days to learn about available funding opportunities, including government grants for small businesses and venture capital funds.
The Silicon Valley Defense Group (SVDG) hosted a panel discussion at the summit that also touched on small business financing and the barriers that can sometimes prevent small businesses from succeeding in the highly competitive DON contract environment. The SVDG is an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit organization established just over two years ago to connect tech startups with investors, the federal government, and the defense industry.
Panelist Nate Douglas, Head of Future Enterprise Systems for the US Space Force, said, “As we get that initial seed money, we’re going to get more money at the end. We need a complete solution, from beginning to end of the transition,” through a combination of public and private funding, including venture capital.
“We are changing the funding model to find the capacity we need,” he explained. “We are trying to change our rules slightly to close this gap and provide funding until the product is in the hands of the end user. We want to get everyone to the table early.
James Cross, co-founder of SVDG and co-head of private investment with mutual fund firm Franklin Templeton, agreed it was important to “get the right people in the room as soon as possible”. .
“Start at the grassroots level, with people representing traditional and new industry bases, policy makers, funding sources and potential end users,” said Cross, who is also a managing partner at Franklin Venture Partners, the capital fund -risk of Franklin Templeton. “Early in the life of a startup, government involvement can be huge in helping a start-up company achieve a minimum viable product.”
Connecting needs, solutions and funding is also the role of the Ventura County Economic Development Collaborative (EDC), one of the founding partners of Fathomwerx.
“Our role in this partnership is to ensure that we do everything we can to facilitate communication and collision between the public and private sectors, so that they work together to contribute to security, growth and the prosperity of the nation”, explained Bruce Stenslie, president. and CEO of EDC, who spoke at the opening session.
Fathomwerx was designated in April as an Inclusive Innovative Hub, or iHub2, by the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, a department of the Governor’s Office for Economic and Business Development, or GO-Biz. EDC will administer iHub2 in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
The state designation gives Fathomwerx the ability to seek venture capital funding from outside investors for individual projects that promote inclusivity and a diverse network of innovators, Stenslie said.
Mahan also continues to look on his own for ways to connect with local businesses to meet NSWC PHD contracting needs.
“I post long-term acquisition forecasts on our public website and host a monthly small business roundtable at the Camarillo Small Business Development Center, where local small businesses — as well as some outside of the region – come together to hear updates on needs,” he said. “It’s also a great opportunity for them to network with other contractors to form team agreements in hopes of successfully securing an NSWC PHD contract.
“NSWC PHD encourages local small businesses to participate in any requirement they are able to meet to a satisfactory standard,” he added.