JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
A respirator with a built-in two-way communication system. A semi-truck trailer that can reduce aircraft deployment from 72 hours to five hours. A chemical agent detection device that runs on renewable energy.
These concepts were all invented by different teams, at different bases, with different missions but share a common thread: innovative Airmen who articulated their workplace ideas in the interest of helping the Air Force save time, money, or even lives.
The Sept. 27 deadline is soon approaching to devise and board ideas for the third annual Spark Tank Competition, which takes place at the Air Force Association’s 2020 Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 26, 2020. The top two winners from AFDW and two Air Force wild cards will receive $2,500 from Airmen Powered by Innovation, funded travel to Florida and other resources to implement their projects, and a crystal trophy -- not to mention the chance to pitch the idea to world-renowned entrepreneur Mark Cuban and Air Force senior leaders.
“Last year, out of 320 submissions, six were selected, spanning testing, equipment, and tactical improvements designed to reduce injury, improve well-being, and ultimately save the Air Force millions of dollars,” said Master Sgt. Maurice Carbajal, AFDW executive assistant.
Featuring a distinguished panel of judges that include acting Air Force Secretary Matthew Donovan, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein, and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright, Spark Tank provides a high-profile public forum to celebrate innovation and identify avenues to increase lethality and cost-effective modernization.
Master Sgt. Jared Bobic, AFDW acting first sergeant, echoed the sentiment of senior leaders in seeking solutions at the unit level and below.
“The answers to our problems are at that lower echelon,” Bobic said, “so how does leadership get down to that level and give Airmen with great ideas a voice?”
The challenge, Bobic noted, is significant, but critical.
“About 33,000 Airmen belong to AFDW – that’s about 10 percent of the entire Air Force,” Bobic said. “This means we need to take a different approach than that of a major command with a conventional ‘wing-group-squadron-element’ structure.”
Bobic acknowledged the task at hand to cull ideas from Airmen in various locales, no matter how far – or near.
“The directorates are at the Pentagon, so often Airmen are right next door to people who can make decisions, but they may not have a chance to have everyday conversations with them,” Bobic explained. “People just assume that their voices are heard because of their proximity to senior leadership, so we’re making sure the most junior Airman in the halls can say, ‘I’ve been thinking of this for years; I’ve got a solution to this problem!’”
Carbajal described the program as a way to push boundaries in pursuit of future technologies and identify problems and creative solutions alike.
“Spark Tank is a chance to celebrate our Air Force risk takers, idea makers and entrepreneurs who refuse to accept the status quo,” Carbajal said. “They determine their own fate by developing solutions that make it easier for us to bring our best to the fight.”
Col. Robby Hanovich, who takes the reins as AFDW vice commander Sept. 10, agrees.
"Spark Tank is about enabling AFDW Airmen and civilian teammates at every level to solve problems and tackle challenges that impede mission success," he said. "It's about removing roadblocks and empowering our team to get after it!"
Joining renowned entrepreneur and current Shark Tank reality series judge Cuban on the panel is George Steinbrenner IV, owner of the Harding Steinbrenner Racing IndyCar Series team.
Both judges said they welcome the opportunity to hear and evaluate the creative and innovative ideas of Airmen during the 2020 Spark Tank Finals.
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs will review and approve submissions for all Headquarters Air Force and SAF directorates, while 11th Wing Public Affairs will manage and process submissions for direct reporting units: AFDW headquarters, 11th WG, 844th Communications Squadron, and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. Air Force elements must enter submissions through their closest local public affairs office.
To enter the competition, Airmen should use their common access card to log into the Idea Portal at https://usaf.ideascalegov.com. After creating a user name, profile, and completing the idea form, select “AF Spark Tank 2020” under Campaign drop-down menu, then select major command and duty station.
Video submission is required and can range from reading an idea into a microphone on camera to creating an elaborate visualization describing the project or initiative.
Former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson began the Air Force’s Spark Tank competition in 2017 with a goal to “unleash the innovative capacity of our Airmen.”
The competition is co-hosted by the Airmen Powered by Innovation program and the AFWERX innovation ecosystem.
No extensions will be granted beyond Sept. 27 deadline.