December 8, 2022
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Recent Summit Aims to Connect Potential Small Business Contractors with Naval Warfare Center > Naval Sea Systems Command > Saved News Module

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Working with small businesses is a priority for Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD), key representatives told small businesses attending the recent Fathomwerx Summit at the Fathomwerx Lab at the Port of Hueneme in California.

The message during the Sept. 14-15 event was clear: the Department of the Navy (DON) is seeking innovative technologies from small businesses to help evolve and transition critical capabilities to the warfighter.

NSWC PHD, which is a partner in the offsite innovation and collaboration space known as Fathomwerx Lab, also seeks to grow its small business partnerships to fulfill both federal requirements and warfighter needs.

“Growing the small business industrial base, including local small businesses, is crucial to the ongoing success of NSWC PHD,” said Dan Mahan, the command’s deputy for small business, who attended the two-day summit. “This growth is a never-ending pursuit as some of our small business contractors will likely be financially successful enough to move up to the status of large businesses in the near future.

“(My) attendance at the Fathomwerx Summit was particularly helpful in my quest to find small businesses to add to my electronic Rolodex,” Mahan added. “There were several vendors I interviewed that showed the interest and ability to succeed as a contractor at NSWC PHD. Time will tell as growing our industrial base is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Summit connections

Just over 340 people from around the country attended the summit, which included technology demonstrations as well as daily breakout sessions geared toward helping small businesses navigate doing business with the DON.

The Naval Agility (NavalX) office, which falls under the operational guidance of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, hosted the informational sessions, which included topics such as DON small business engagement programs and navigating from product to contract with the DON.

NavalX operates 18 international- and U.S.-based Tech Bridges, which create a network of partners to bridge the gap between technology innovators in the private sector, Department of Defense and academia, to Navy and Marine mission owners with problems to solve. Fathomwerx Lab was designated as the Ventura Tech Bridge in May 2020.

Ventura Tech Bridge Director Alan Jaeger told summit attendees, “We are aligning a number of different things to try to have these meaningful collaborations in order to accelerate capabilities to the fleet and the warfighter. Having a strong industrial base is going to be critical going forward. Having economic partners that can engage on the small business side is also going to be important.

“We all speak a different language, whether we are government, academia or industry,” added Jaeger. “We need to understand how we can all work together to make everyone stronger.”

He advised small businesses to attend events like the Fathomwerx Summit and other government-hosted industry days to learn more about available funding opportunities, including small business government grants and venture capital funds.

Funding connections

The Silicon Valley Defense Group (SVDG) hosted a panel discussion at the summit that also touched on small business funding and the barriers that can sometimes prevent small businesses from succeeding in the highly competitive DON contract environment. The SVDG is an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit organization formed just over two years ago to connect technology startups with investors, the federal government and the defense industry.

Panelist Nate Douglas, chief of enterprise future systems for U.S. Space Force, said, “As we get that initial startup money, we are going to get more money on the back end. We need a whole solution, from front to end transition,” through a combination of government and private funding, including venture capital.

“We’re changing the funding model to find the capability we need,” he explained. “We are trying to slightly shift our rules to close that gap and provide funding all the way to getting the product into the hands of the end user. We want to get everyone to the table early.”

James Cross, co-founder of the SVDG and co-head of private investing with mutual fund firm Franklin Templeton, agreed that it is important to “get the right people in the room as early as possible.”

“Start at the local level, with people representing traditional and new industrial bases, policy makers, funding sources and potential end users,” said Cross, who is also managing partner with Franklin Venture Partners, the venture capital fund of Franklin Templeton. “Early in a startup’s life, government involvement can be huge to help an early-stage company get to a minimum viable product.”

Connecting needs, solutions and funding is also the role of the Ventura County Economic Development Collaborative (EDC), one of the founding partners of Fathomwerx.

“Our role in this partnership is to make sure we are doing everything we can to facilitate communication and collision between the public and private sectors, so that they work together to contribute to the nation’s safety, growth and prosperity,” explained Bruce Stenslie, president and CEO of the EDC, who spoke during the opening day session.

Fathomwerx in April was designated an Inclusive Innovative Hub, or iHub2, from California’s Office of the Small Business Advocate, a department within The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, or GO-Biz. The EDC will administer the iHub2 in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

The state designation gives Fathomwerx the ability to pursue venture capital funding from outside investors for individual projects that promote inclusivity and a diverse network of innovators, Stenslie said.

Mahan also continues to look for ways on his own to connect with local businesses to fulfill NSWC PHD contracting needs.

“I post the Long Range Acquisition Forecast on our public-facing website as well as host a monthly Small Business Round Table at the Small Business Development Center in Camarillo, where local small businesses — as well as some outside the area — congregate to hear updates on requirements,” he said. “It’s also a great opportunity for them to network with other contractors to form teaming arrangements in hopes of successfully obtaining a contract from NSWC PHD.

“NSWC PHD encourages local small businesses to participate in any requirement they are capable of performing at a satisfactory level,” he added.



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