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Rapid success in contracting earned Air Force representatives an invite to the opening of the Nasdaq Stock Market on July 3 in New York City.
Air Force representatives received the invitation from an Air Force and AFWERX small business partner, Vita Inclinata Technologies LLC.
Founders of the company rang the opening bell July 3, which signaled the start of the Nasdaq trading day. Ringing the opening bell at a stock exchange is a hallmark moment for private businesses, and a milestone indicative of business success.
Air Force Research Laboratory and AFWERX representatives were invited to attend the bell ringing because a recent Air Force rapid acquisition practice led the company to this point.
Vita Inclinata first got on the Air Force’s radar at a contracting sprint day back in October 2018, which sought to identify game-changing technologies and award a number of initial contracts in a matter of hours. The contracting sprint was a combined effort of the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Air Force’s Small Business Innovation Research program and AFWERX, with participation from a number of other Air Force organizations.
“We looked for a more commercially-focused application, a shorter application time, shorter initial award periods and more awards to bring in more companies to work with us,” said Ryan Helbach, chief intrapreneur of the Air Force Research Laboratory. “It normally takes six months for a company to submit a proposal and then receive a contract award.”
But the new contracting sprint process cut that six-month standard timeline down to a matter of hours, and several companies took advantage of that opportunity.
“We had a goal of awarding contracts to 50 companies in 50 hours. We actually doubled that number and in 40 hours, we awarded 102 contracts. One of those contracts was to Vita Inclinata.”
The company received a Phase I contract award to conduct a feasibility study of its Load Stability System (LSS), identify customers and define the operational use of the proposed technology.
The LSS is a chaotic motion control system for helicopters, counteracting the spinning of payloads and personnel suspended by cables below a helicopter in flight. That spinning adds additional strain to the cables, increases risk, makes it harder to place the payload with precision, and is undesirable when lifting personnel for rescue and exfiltration missions.
The LSS is attached to the lifting cables. Once free of the helicopter’s cabin, the LSS sensors and control algorithms take over and, using a drone-type configuration, counteract and mitigate all swing. The initial use of this new technology is being tested for use in lifting patients into a hovering helicopter for rapid evacuation, and can be applied to both military and civilian helicopters for both cargo transport sorties and lifting patients into a helicopter during rescues.
In the same month that Vita Inclinata received its Air Force first contract award, the company completed its first flight test of LSS under a helicopter.
The company’s rapid progress and rapid results earned a Phase II contract award in March, for further prototyping and testing with end users. Awards of this nature can be a dollar-for-dollar match for up to $1.5 million, and create a joint military and private investment.
Now the LSS is in its beta stage and is actively being refined for customers in the Air Force and the oil industry; the Army has shown interest in the product as well, according to Caleb Carr, president and chief executive officer of Vita Technologies, LLC.
“Without the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force, the LSS would not be a reality,” said Carr. “Our first Phase I contract is what convinced angel investors that Vita was worth investing in. Furthermore, the speed at which the Air Force moved to grant our contracts resulted in Vita raising over $1 million in an angel investment round within 20 days. Meanwhile, while at the Air Force accelerator we launched our Series A round to execute on delivering the LSS to crane and helicopter operators all over the world.”
“Through the support of the Air Force accelerator, the relationships, and the rapid award of our Phase II contract, Vita was able to raise another $6 million dollars in 40 days. To put it simply, the Air Force empowered Vita and took a risk that investors weren’t willing to initially take, ensuring that the LSS can save lives for decades to come,” he added.
More contracting sprints and even more rapid “Air Force Pitch Days” are planned, with another 12 planned between now and the end of the year. The next two pitch days are in July, with a goal of awarding on the spot contracts from pitches received at the Air Force UAS Pitch Day on July 24 in Burlington, Massachusetts, and the Kessel Run Pitch Day on July 26 in Boston. Each of the remaining 2019 pitch days will concentrate on a specific topic, including space, simulators, hypersonics, airborne communications and rapid sustainment.