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Eight Things Startups Should Know About AFWERX, the Air Force’s SBIR Program

Part of Inspiralia's presentation on the AFWERX program.

During a time when the investing forecast is uncertain, the government’s non-dilutive Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants can provide great opportunities for startups to get funding in the door. 

This April, our member Inspiralia—which offers “product development as a service” and frequently helps companies secure SBIR grants—hosted a webinar for the Greentown Labs community on how the Air Force’s AFWERX program could support their businesses.

Here are the top things startups need to know about AFWERX:

1. AFWERX is the “innovation hub of the Air Force,” according to Eric Fiklocki, VP of operations at Inspiralia. The program provides SBIR grants to companies whose innovations can be adapted for Air Force use, even if they don’t have an obvious Department of Defence application. The Inspiralia team gave the example of a neurofeedback therapy platform that the Air Force is using for military members’ mental health, and said AFWERX has periodically awarded these non-dilutive grants to cleantech companies.

2. AFWERX is fast. Whereas it might take months to hear back from other programs, AFWERX aims to give a decision within 30 to 45 days, and the Inspiralia team says two to three weeks is more common. The application deadline is July 2, 2020.

3. The AFWERX program has a lot of budget to allocate. The Department of Defense receives more than half of all SBIR funding, according to Inspiralia, and the Air Force gets a large chunk of that pool.

4. If you’re accepted and receive private investment during the AFWERX program, the Air Force will match the private investment at a 2:1 ratio.

5. AFWERX has three phases. Phase I offers $50,000 for market fit validation; Phase II is prototype development and includes between about $500,000 and $1.5 million; and Phase III centers on sole-use government purchase, with no maximum dollar amount.

6. The key to getting from Phase I to Phase II is finding a specific customer and end user within the Air Force who will sign a memorandum of understanding. This requirement is a way of measuring whether there’s an explicit need for your product.

7. AFWERX has created a COVID-19 task force and is ready to fast track innovations surrounding the virus. Accepted companies working on COVID-19 can skip straight to Phase II of the program if they apply by April 30, 2020.

8. Based on Inspiralia’s experience helping companies apply to SBIR programs, eligible companies need to have a well-rounded team, have a path to commercialization, have a high degree of technical risk, and have delineated milestones.

Want advice from our member Inspiralia on whether your company is a good fit for the AFWERX SBIR program? Reach out to Inspiralia here!

Check out Inspiralia’s work with fellow Greentown member Onvector here.

The AFWERX webinar is part of Greentown’s continued commitment to support startups as they navigate the impacts of COVID-19. To learn more about these efforts, follow us on Twitter or check out our blog

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