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Tech transfer — in reverse

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A national Air Force initiative to partner with the best and brightest business innovators on new technologies has touched down in New Mexico.

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base signed a three-year, $750,000 contract in April with the Albuquerque-based ABQid business accelerator to help build collaborative relations with private companies working on new technologies of use to both the Air Force and the open market.

The partnership could turn technology transfer on its head by creating paths for companies building commercial products to introduce them to the military, rather than the traditional push to find new markets for government technologies originally developed for defense purposes, said ABQid Executive Director T.J. Cook.

“Traditional technology transfer is about getting ideas out of the AFRL and into the marketplace, but this is the other way around,” Cook said. “We want to build AFRL awareness about new, privately-built technologies that the Air Force could benefit from and acquire.”

It’s part of a fresh, national effort by the Air Force and other defense-related agencies to more rapidly develop and acquire technologies that improve military capabilities, said AFRL Technology Engagement Office Director Matt Fetrow.

“There’s a huge trend in the Air Force to accelerate innovation, and we recognize that folks in the community have amazing technologies,” Fetrow said. “We want to find novel ways to tap into that.”

The Air Force created a Defense Technology Accelerator in 2016 for that purpose. It partnered with LightSpeed Innovations to launch a “Space Accelerator” for commercial entities with space-related technologies. And this year, the Air Force joined the nationally renowned Techstars network to create a Boston-based Techstars Autonomous Technology Accelerator that offered a three-month program for companies with innovative products to counter enemy drones.

AFRL and ABQid are studying those and other initiatives to determine what would work best in New Mexico. The first programs could be unveiled in the fall.

“This is a multi-year effort,” Cook said. “We don’t want to just do something once. We want to develop a long-term process.”

It will include agile ways for small companies to do business with the Air Force.

“Small, innovative companies are often discouraged by the lengthy government acquisitions process,” Fetrow said. “We need timelines consistent with what excites small businesses.”

The partnership with ABQid is the latest twist in robust AFRL efforts to engage more with the local community on technology transfer. That includes a new team effort with the state’s research universities and Northern New Mexico College to work with investors and local businesses, plus AFRL’s decision last year to open an office at the Lobo Rainforest building at the Innovate ABQ research and development hub Downtown.

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