Small Businesses, Big Ideas at Army's xTechSearch
Is it possible for the Army to discover innovative technologies and, at the same time, encourage future small business development? That answer, in short, is a resounding 'yes.' Launched in 2018, the Army Expeditionary Technology Search – or xTechSearch – was created by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology (ASA(ALT)) for the purpose of identifying groundbreaking disruptive technologies and the small businesses that create them. The annual four-phase competition seeks solutions in Army focus areas ranging from soldier lethality to air and missile defense to a variety of medical technologies. Several members of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) played important roles in the latest iteration; xTechSearch 4.0.
"xTechSearch provides a valuable collaboration and partnership mechanism for moving the needle even further to prevent death on the multi-domain battlefield of the future," said ASA(ALT)'s COL Matthew Clark. "Future warfare will be dominated by the need to provide prolonged field care for up to 72 hours, nearly three days longer than the current Golden Hour standard and new disruptive technology is needed to meet this mission."
After receiving medical technology whitepapers and Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) proposals from over 80 companies in November, ASA(ALT) asked representatives from both the ASA(ALT) Medical Systems Office the USAMRDC Medical Technology Transfer (MTT) office to serve as four of the more than 200 total judges empaneled to help down-select the applications on factors such as impact potential and scientific viability, among others. The Phase I review of xTechSearch applications also included an evaluation of a given product's potential "dual use" application, or the possibility of each technology to be utilized in both civilian and military products.
"The primary mission of MTT is to help create products to support the warfighter," said Dr. David Humphrey of the MTT office, "but an additional goal is to gain revenue through licensing Army technologies to make civilian products, so identifying dual-use assets is second nature to us."
Following an initial review, eight medical small businesses were selected to receive $5,000 and an invitation to the medical technology portion of the Phase II competition; an in-person pitch event that took place in Playa Vista, CA, on January 8. The USAMRDC's Dr. Jaques Reifman, a Department of the Army Senior Research Scientist and Director of the Biotechnology HPC Institute, COL Matthew Clark, and Edward Diehl were among the nearly two dozen subject matter experts chosen to judge the Phase II portion of the event. As part of that second leg of the competition, each company was given 15minutes to present their concept followed by ten minutes of questions from the assembled judges.
"Every team had unique attributes and we probed their capabilities very effectively despite the time constraints," said Reifman.
During the second stage of the competition, companies were provided the opportunity to interact with the judges during the lunch session, which in turn led to a number of follow-up actions and enhanced engagements. At the close of the competition, scoring was tabulated electronically and the judges discussed the results.
"Despite the fairly large number of judges present," said Diehl, "the scoring was very clear and we were able to come to a consensus on the winners of Phase II."
Those winners – KeriCure; a company that presented a nanosilver polymer spray to control wound infection; GeneCapture, a company that presented a rapid, portable diagnostic platform for pathogens; and NeuroFlow, a company that presented a psychological well-being app designed specifically for the Warfighter – were awarded $10,000 each and invited to the Phase III competition, which will include concept displays and further pitching efforts at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Global Force Symposium & Exposition in Huntsville, AL, in March. Winners at that level will receive $120,000 and an invitation to compete in Phase IV for the grand prize of $250,000 at the AUSA Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, in October.
For more information about the xTechSearch program, visit https://www.arl.army.mil/xtechsearch/