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AFRL taps local business innovation to help solve problems

Bernalillo County Lonnie Talbert speaks Tuesday at new conference annoucncing the Air Force Research Lab’s Enterprize Challenge to enlist local businesses to develop solutions to some of the service’s current needs here.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Commissioner Talbert’s name.

The Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base is tapping into local business ingenuity to help government entities resolve technical challenges through a first-of-its-kind competition that opens July 24.

The AFRL announced the launch of the “Enterprize Challenge” Tuesday afternoon, offering $30,000 in prize money to any three local businesses that develop creative, viable solutions for some of the Air Force’s technology needs. That includes everything from new software development to designing novel tools, parts and components in response to issues outlined by various Kirtland-based units.

Air Force personnel will discuss their needs with interested participants at a July 24 “showcase” at the Innovate ABQ research and development center Downtown, where businesses and entrepreneurs can network and ask questions. Competitors will then have eight weeks to design solutions for presentation at a final competition for first, second and third-place prizes of $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000.

The goal is to connect local Air Force entities with local innovators to seek creative, homegrown solutions to problems, said Gabe Mounce, AFRL New Mexico’s economic development lead, at a news conference on the challenge.

“We realize that there is amazing innovation taking place in the private sector, and we want to be able to better tap into it,” Mounce said. “We can’t wait to see the solutions that are developed by our local businesses and entrepreneurs.”

Competition winners will receive a technical assessment of their innovations to help develop a minimal viable product the Air Force could choose to purchase. Companies could also receive assistance from business support programs at the state’s three research universities.

The Enterprize Challenge is the latest AFRL effort to build bridges into the business community.

Last year, the AFRL signed a three-year, $750,000 contract with the ABQid business accelerator to help build collaborative relations with private companies working on new technologies. To facilitate interaction, the AFRL Technology Engagement Office has space at the Lobo Rainforest Building at Innovate ABQ.

“We’re creating spaces and programs to more easily collaborate with the private sector and with academia,” said AFRL Technology Engagement Office Director Matt Fetrow.

Bernalillo County is co-sponsoring the new Enterprize Challenge, said commissioner Lonnie Talbert.

“The AFRL is stepping outside the box to partner with the local community,” Talbert said. “…It‘s a positive approach that will help in job creation and economic development.”