More than 20 industry partners attended the first in-person AFWERX Collider event in over three years at Fed Supernova in Austin, Texas. Colliders went virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic but the return of face-to-face interaction gave U.S. Air Force leaders the opportunity to share the same room with small businesses and entrepreneurs to spark interaction and unleash American ingenuity to solve warfighter problems.

“For some of us, we put on a uniform. But all of you are audacious Americans with ideas and recognize that there is a way you can benefit your country,” said Col. Elliott Leigh, AFWERX director and chief commercialization officer for the Department of the Air Force. “You're going to hear about some of the problems in the Air Force. Go back and think about your value proposition and how your company can contribute to that and roll that into your proposal.”

Colliders rely on government partners to come to AFWERX with their problems and they must align with the Air Force’s seven Operational Imperatives. The Operational Imperatives are the critical operational capabilities and functions the Department of the Air Force must invest in to protect the United States’ ability to deter conflict and project power against pacing challenges.

Once the government problem set and Operational Imperative focus area is established, AFWERX is responsible for coordinating the event and inviting industry.

“Our problems revolve around austere locations, installations at deployed locations, energy resiliency and security forces, just to name a few,” said Dustin Dickens, AFIMSC innovation program manager. “What sets Collider events apart from other industry engagements is AFWERX has a network of industry partners to connect and collaborate with our individual user sets to make the experience more appropriate to fit our functional gaps.”

The morning portion of the Collider featured presentations from Air Force leaders to industry attendees on the need to reduce the logistical footprint required to sustain operations in the future. The afternoon was an opportunity for industry to talk with those leaders about their technologies and possibly find solutions.

“The Colliders are great for making connections,” said Sean Luangrath, an attendee and CEO of a portable solar generator small business. “I attended a previous Collider and our technology solution resulted in an AFWERX phase two contract award. Today, I just had a conversation with Air Force leaders that are very interested in another one of our technologies.”

James Foutz, AFWERX Spark Collider program lead, said the goal moving forward is to have in-person Colliders every quarter while also providing a virtual option to maximize attendance.