DARPA is launching an accelerator for small businesses

March 4, 2019


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DARPA announces it is launching a commercial accelerator program to add to its Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs.

“It’s essential to change our acquisition practices to mirror the commercial marketplace if we hope to attract revolutionary companies that normally avoid working with the federal government”

As the Pentagon’s research funding arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is launching an accelerator for small businesses, which would accelerate private companies, so that they would sell their products, services, or research right back to the government.

“Beginning with this announcement, DARPA is launching a pilot accelerator program (DARPA Accelerator) for SBIR/STTR Phase II performers that aims to increase the participant’s ability to move technology from the lab to a sustainable business that in turn sells new capabilities to the military,” reads the DARPA (SBIR/STTR) solicitation published on March 1.

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“It’s essential to change our acquisition practices to mirror the commercial marketplace if we hope to attract revolutionary companies that normally avoid working with the federal government,” said Dr. Steven Walker, director of DARPA, in a statement.

“This move will provide DARPA the flexibility to operate at a much faster pace than traditional SBIR/STTR contracting cycles have historically allowed,” he added.

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DARPA Accelerator Criteria

The SBIR/STTR programs will have three phases. The accelerator will be part of phase II. “Phase I,” according to the solicitation, “is to determine, to the extent possible, the scientific, technical, and commercial merit and feasibility of ideas submitted under the programs.”

“The ultimate objective is to provide a new or greatly improved defense capability”

Phase III “refers to work that derives from, extends, or completes an effort made under prior SBIR/STTR funding agreements, but is funded by sources other than the SBIR/STTR Programs, which can include both private sector funding and non-SBIR/STTR government contract funding.”

For companies that pass through the DARPA accelerator, “In some cases, the primary market is the defense sector, while in others the most viable path to providing technology to the DoD requires a parallel commercial market. The ultimate objective is to provide a new or greatly improved defense capability,” reads the solicitation.

To make it to Phase II, which is the principal research and development effort that is expected to produce a well-defined deliverable prototype, DARPA will choose the best proposals coming from small businesses working on solutions in the following areas:

Under the terms of the pilot program, however, DARPA will institute timesaving measures to speed program integration, such as Direct to Phase II authority, which allows the agency to bypass Phase I research requirements once performers provide satisfactory documentation of feasibility, and/or proof of scientific merit, technical merit, and commercialization potential.

DARPA will also seek to identify SBIR/STTR Phase II awardees with a compelling go-to-market strategy for participation in its newly created commercialization accelerator.

The DARPA accelerator will provide additional funding to employ one entrepreneur-in-residence or business development lead who will offer the awardee direct support for activities including, but not limited to, customer engagement planning, market analysis and mapping, competitive analysis, techno-economic analysis, IP securement strategy development, and financial plan creation, according to a statement from DARPA.

DARPA and Future Commercial Technologies

Here at The Sociable, we frequently write about new DARPA projects, not for publicity reasons, but for the organization’s track record of funding and developing technologies that later become commercialized.

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When DARPA announces a new program or makes a new solicitation, there’s a good chance that it will all go to the military and intelligence agencies first, followed by commercialization years later. So, if you want to know what future technologies await, DARPA is one place to look.

For example, the same technology that goes into commercial digital assistants was first developed at DARPA under the PAL (Personal Assistant that Learns) project.

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DARPA worked with military users to refine PAL prototypes for operational use, and with the defense acquisition community to transition PAL technologies into military systems.

Now, DARPA is looking to bring about more interaction between the public and private sectors with its new accelerator, which is consistent with what the US Department of Defense (DoD) Chief Intelligence Officer, Dana Deasy, has been preaching in that the DoD needs more of a startup mentality.

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Accelerator participants will have access to a DARPA commercialization advisor, mentors from industry, as well as connections to DARPA’s extensive network of investors.

Participants will receive additional funding up to $250,000, to bring an entrepreneur-in-residence onto their team and execute a series of commercial development milestones.

Congress established the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program in 1982 to provide opportunities for small businesses to participate in federal government-sponsored research and development. Since that time, DARPA has leveraged SBIR awards to promote and sustain small business innovation as well as foster the development and transition of critical national security capabilities, according to DARPA.


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