A Brief History
AFWERX Challenge is a rapid, high-quality market research and crowdsourcing program under AFWERX, a program office at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). Teaming across academia, industry, investment, interagency and international partners, AFWERX is expanding talent, technology, and transition of dual-use technologies and was ranked #16 by FAST Company Best Workplaces for Innovators, alongside brands such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon in 2020.
In early 2018 AFWERX hosted a workshop to understand the challenges of providing security to permanent bases, temporary bases, and mobile assets. During the workshop the idea was hatched to use a crowdsourcing platform and a traditional marketing program to reach individual innovators, academia, and companies in the private sector who had not worked with the government before.
AFWERX implemented Challenges to define problems the Air Force is facing and widen the aperture to innovative solutions, and so the high-quality market research and crowdsourcing program AFWERX Challenge was born.
Since then we have evolved the AFWERX Challenge process into a series of stages:
- Scoping Workshop—An initial meeting with many of the USAF stakeholders
- Challenge Definition Workshop—A two-day design thinking workshop with SMEs from industry, academia, and government to define the challenge
- Open Crowdsourcing Campaign—An open call for solution submissions, treated as market research
- Initial Evaluation—Government evaluators select the top submissions to be invited to the Challenge Showcase
- Challenge Showcase—An expo-styled event for selected teams to showcase their solutions and privately pitch to the government evaluation team
- Prototyping Phase—The execution phase of prototype development and testing with the USAF team
- Program Office Handoff—We work with the appropriate program office to handoff promising prototypes for ongoing development
Along with serving as a rapid and high-quality market research program, AFWERX Challenge also supports different streamlined contracting methods. For solutions that are invited to the Challenge Showcase phase after a comprehensive evaluation process, a contracting pathway exists. The Commercial Solutions Opening (CSO) is linked to the Challenge Process to allow DAF customers a vehicle to get a solution provided on contract for prototyping efforts. The CSO is open to anyone in the Department of the Air Force, not just the sponsor team.