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USAF to test Kickstarter-style contracting for startups

The US Air Force will experiment with a Kickstarter-style contracting process in October for small businesses and startups that is designed to reduce the time it takes the service to grant contracts from months to days.

Will Roper, the USAF’s assistant secretary for acquisition and technology, said the idea was formulated as a means for the service to tap the innovative potential of cash-strapped startups that may not be able to wait several months to win a contract via the Department of Defense’s usual expedited process.

“It’s continually been a criticism of acquisition that we can do a contract in about two months, and that’s if everything goes right and we pull out all the stops and use [Other Transaction Authority] and got top cover – it‘s not something that is scalable,” says Roper. “That’s too long for a startup.”

After consulting with DOD contracting specialists and lawyers, Roper says his office discovered they could facilitate faster acquisitions using a government credit card and PayPal.

“We’ll put out a call. They’ll submit their request. We are thinking kind of a one pager or two pager on the idea,” he says. “And then, a 90-second video like Kickstarter: Pitch us your idea.”

The USAF will review the companies and their pitches, and then a subset will make an in-person pitch to a specific programme office.

“We’ll invite them to come pitch live and the idea will be 60 to 80% [of companies] have a high likelihood walking out of a live pitch being on contract that day,” says Roper.

The USAF will have the company sign a one-page contract and will make progress payments to the startup to fund the development and production of the product. Roper did not say if there is a contract amount limit. It’s also not clear if the DOD would seek equity or intellectual property rights from the companies whose products it funds.

The service plans as a trial run with the Air Force Research Laboratory by the end of October to do 50 contracts in 50 hours.

“This is huge because it suddenly pulls startups into the orbit around the programme offices,” says Roper. “Even if round one their product isn’t ready, they are aware of us as an angel investor.”

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