Working with small businesses is a priority for the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Huneum Division (NSWC PHD), key representatives told small businesses attending the recent Fathomwerx Summit at the Fathomwerx Laboratory in Port Huneum, California.
News during September. The 14-15 events are clear: The Department of the Navy (DON) is seeking innovative technologies from small businesses to help develop and transition critical capabilities to the warfighter.
NSWC PHD, a partner in the off-site innovation and collaboration space known as the Fathomwerx Lab, also seeks to grow its small business partnerships to meet federal requirements and warfighter needs.
“Developing the small business industry base, including local small businesses, is critical to the continued 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 quest, as some of our small business contractors may be financially successful enough to be promoted to large business status in the near future.
“[My]attendance at the Fathomwerx Summit has been especially helpful for me in finding small businesses to add to my electronic address book,” added Mahan. “Several of the suppliers I interviewed showed interest and ability to succeed as NSWC PHD contractors. Time will tell that developing our industrial base is a marathon, not a sprint.”
More than 340 people from across the country attended the summit, which included technology demonstrations and daily breakout sessions designed to help small businesses do business with DON.
The Office of Naval Agility (NavalX) hosted information sessions under the operational direction of the Assistant Secretary of Naval Research, Development and Acquisition, which included topics such as the DON Small Business Engagement Program and Navigating from Product to Contract Don.
NavalX operates 18 International and U.S. Tech Bridges that create a network of partners to bridge technology innovators in the private sector, DoD and academia with problem-solving Navy and Marine Corps mission owners difference. Fathomwerx Lab was designated as Ventura Tech Bridge in May 2020.
Alan Jaeger, director of Ventura Tech Bridge, told summit attendees, “We’re aligning a lot of different things to try and do these meaningful collaborations to accelerate fleet and warfighter capabilities. Having a strong industrial base will be key going forward. It is also important to engage economic partners on the small business side.
“We all speak different languages, whether we are in government, academia or industry,” Jaeger added. “We need to understand how we can work together to make everyone stronger.”
He advises small businesses to attend events like the Fathomwerx Summit and other government-sponsored industry days to learn more about available funding opportunities, including small business government grants and venture capital funds.
The Silicon Valley Defense Group (SVDG) hosted a panel discussion at the summit on small business funding and the barriers that can sometimes prevent small businesses from succeeding in the competitive DON contracting environment. SVDG is an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit founded more than two years ago to connect tech startups with investors, the federal government and the defense industry.
“If we get our initial start-up funding, we’ll get more funding on the back end,” said panelist Nate Douglas, head of Enterprise Future Systems for the U.S. Space Force. “We need a complete solution that starts with front-to-back transition,” through a combination of government and private funding, including venture capital.
“We’re changing the funding model to find the capacity we need,” he explained. “We’re trying to change our rules a little bit to close that gap, and have been providing funding to get the product into the hands of end users. We want to get everyone to the table sooner rather than later.”
James Cross, co-founder of SVDG and co-head of private investing at mutual fund firm Franklin Templeton, agrees that “getting the right people on board early on” is important.
“Start at the local level and represent the traditional and new industrial base, policy makers, funding sources and potential end users,” said Cross, who is also a managing partner at Franklin Venture Partners, a venture capital fund at Franklin Templeton. “In the early days of a startup, government involvement can greatly help early-stage companies get a minimum viable product.”
Connecting needs, solutions and funding is also the role of Ventura County Economic Development Partnership (EDC), one of Fathomwerx’s founding partners.
“Our role in this partnership is to ensure that we do everything we can to facilitate communication and collision between the public and private sectors so that they work together to contribute to the security, growth and prosperity of the nation,” President Bruce Staines Lee (Bruce Stenslie) explained and the CEO of EDC, who spoke at the conference on the opening day.
Fathomwerx was designated a Center for Inclusive Innovation, or iHub2, in April by the California Office of Small Business Advocates, a division of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). EDC will manage iHub2 in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
Stenslie said the state’s designation enables Fathomwerx to seek venture capital funding from outside investors for individual projects that promote an inclusive and diverse network of innovators.
Mahan also continued to find ways on his own to connect with local businesses for NSWC PHD contracting needs.
“I publish long-term acquisition forecasts on my public-facing website and host a monthly Small Business Roundtable at the Small Business Development Center in Camarillo, local small businesses — and some outside the area — Gather together to hear the latest news on request,” he said. “It was also a great opportunity for them to network with other contractors to form a team arrangement with a view to successfully securing a contract from NSWC PHD.
“NSWC PHD encourages local small businesses to participate in any requirements they can perform to a satisfactory level,” he added.