The Pentagon has added an improved “matchmaking tool” and other features to its Innovation Pathways website as it tries to better connect industry, academia and warfighters to the Defense Department’s sprawling technology ecosystem.
The online portal was launched earlier this year to serve as a “one-stop-shop” for external, tech-focused entities to find DOD organizations that align with their interests.
“One of the refrains we always hear from industry is we don’t know where the right touchpoints are, we’re not sure how to enter this ecosystem — particularly those non-traditionals, those small businesses that we’re really eager to work with,” Jen Bird, director of the department’s Innovation Steering Group, said in an interview with DefenseScoop on Thursday.
The Innovation Pathways website, which came about after the steering group was tasked with mapping the Pentagon’s innovation ecosystem, is intended to serve as “an entree point into the department so that external stakeholders can try to figure out the best [DOD] organizations, offices, opportunities for what they have to offer,” she said.
The online tool first went live in April, but an enhanced version was implemented this week as the Pentagon aims to improve functionality and user experience.
“The matchmaking tool is an upgrade. A lot of the interface is an upgrade. The ‘For the Warfighter’ section has been additionally populated and more expansive. And then the map [showing DOD’s innovation-related offices located throughout the United States] is also a new feature as well,” Bird said.
There are three main sections on the Innovation Pathways website: one for business and industry, one for academia and students, and one for warfighters.
Companies can filter their search based on whether they provide hardware, software, data, or something else. They can then select how they would like to collaborate with DOD, such as selling an existing technology or product, collaborating on R&D, or presenting a prototype or technical demo. They are also asked to select which of the Pentagon’s 14 critical technology areas apply to their product. They may also disclose the technology readiness level of their product.
Based on those inputs, an algorithm lists the top matches for the company among more than 200 DOD agencies, offices and other entities that are part of the department’s innovation ecosystem.
“Our algorithm is such that … the closer a match, the higher the organization will appear on the list,” Bird explained.
The tool also provides information about each match and includes links to those DOD organizations’ websites where users can find more information about how to get involved.
“This is our sort of most robust tool again, because of that desire to help engage with industry and help point industry in the right direction. What we developed here, we’re calling a matchmaking tool. And our desire was to allow the user to enter some information about the value that that organization has to bring to the Defense Department in hopes that we can help point them in the right direction,” Bird said.
“There’s just so much on here that we think the average non-traditional vendor probably won’t be aware of. And so it’s possible there will be items of interest or organizations of interest that they might not even know are of interest. And so we really kind of have a long list here,” she added.
Students, faculty and other members of academia can also use the website to search for internships, fellowships, grants, scholarships and research opportunities.
Warfighters, meanwhile, can look for opportunities related to problem-solving; workshops, training and credentialing; broadening opportunities, internships and fellowships; science, technology, acquisition and scouting; cloud, data, analytics and software tools; and collaboration tools.
“There’s a lot available to the warfighter. I think this is where we probably have the most room to run in terms of adding resources and making sure that we’re being as inclusive and expansive as possible, because there’s so much available. But this is our initial concept. And again, this really came from the desire from all the folks — both uniformed and DOD civilians — that we talked to about kind of figuring out what else they could do, where can they be looking for resourcing,” Bird said.
The plan is to continue improving the Innovation Pathways website over time.
“I think the next step for us is just trying to drive users because we know that through that user base, we’re going to be able to continue to iterate and make it better,” Bird said.
The website has a feedback form to get users’ input.
“We’re checking this daily, you know, we’re very up to speed on kind of what we’re seeing. And so this is really what we want users to use to get their thoughts back to us,” she said.
Users of the website aren’t required to create a profile or account. But in the future, DOD officials would like to give them that option.
“One thing we really want to do is understand the user and what they have to offer so that we can, you know, leverage a database for all the services. So let’s say you have a user from a software company that has something really great to offer, they look for the right office and maybe they find success, maybe they don’t. But we want to make sure that we capture that user, their contact information, their specialty, their value-add to the department so that if three months from now, hey, the Navy has a need for X, Y or Z, we’re able to make sure that they can peruse a database and see, ‘Hey, is there a user that might have exactly what it is I’m looking for?’” Bird said.
“I think in a perfect world, every month, we go through and we send, you know, the PEOs the relevant users, and we say, ‘Hey, FYI, these folks are out there, just so you know.’ And we hope that that can be another way to kind of generate interest,” she added.
Another element that officials want to include in the next tranche of improvements is a more expansive News & Events page that will include events — such as industry days — from across the department.
“We’re going to add a calendar to that. And we’re going to allow the different DOD organizations to send us events so that I can again be sort of a one-stop-shop for folks interested in attending these sorts of things. At that point, you know, we’d love to be able to send reminders to folks and calendar invites and those sorts of things,” she said.
Bird also foresees adding a section devoted specifically to open solicitations.
DefenseScoop asked Bird if there were any plans to link the Innovation Pathways website with solicitations on Sam.gov.
“We talked about that and I think it’s still on the horizon. I think the technical questions to doing something like that are more challenging than I think what we’ve done over the last six months, but it’s certainly something that we think could be real value-add to the user,” she replied.
While the Innovation Pathways website currently includes sections for industry, academia and warfighters, DOD officials are contemplating adding another component specifically for international allies and partners.
Enhancing international cooperation on research and development has been a high priority for Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu.
“Certainly, we have had discussions … with our partners about how difficult to navigate the U.S. system is, and this has come up as sort of a step in the right direction,” Bird said. “I can envision different formulations of that, but it might be a portal for our partners and allies, it might be a portal to help guide, you know, within the innovation ecosystems of our partners and allies. There are different ways we could do it. But that’s sort of where I think this page is moving.”