In the News

Marines assess small business innovations during weeklong evaluation

By Matthew Gonzales Marine Corps Systems Command

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The Marine Corps values small business innovations.

From April 29 to May 3, the Small Business Innovation Research program at Marine Corps Systems Command hosted a Limited Military User Assessment and Engineering Technical Review at the Gruntworks Squad Integration Facility aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico.

The weeklong event enabled Marines to assess, demonstrate and provide feedback for promising SBIR prototype technologies from MCSC, Program Executive Officer Land Systems and the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate.

"This event allows us to expose these systems to the acquisition stakeholders,” said Jeff Kent, program manager at MCSC’s SBIR office.

During the week, several project officers presented their innovations to Marines from I and II Marine Expeditionary Force, and engineers from MCSC and PEO LS. One demonstrator displayed silicone earbuds that eliminate harmful noises without compromising situational awareness, while another showed a solution that protects the warfighter from antenna electrocution.

During their presentations, each project officer fielded questions about the benefits of the prototypes, the logistics of use and cost. Marines tested the equipment and gave immediate feedback to the command’s subject matter experts and the vendors.

Scot Jaworski, project officer for the Demonstration and Assessment Team at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division, emphasized the importance and uniqueness of user assessment opportunities.

“This is the first time we’ve gathered a large group of Marines along with several different technologies on Quantico to get direct feedback to Marine Corps Systems Command,” said Jaworski.

John O’Donnell, a senior engineer for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, also expressed appreciation for the event. During his 17-year tenure as an engineer for MCSC, he assessed products from research labs to try to find solutions for Marines.

O’Donnell raved about the benefits of the LMUA.

“I think anytime you have an event where Marines can give feedback on products—particularly something like a SBIR, which is an innovative research product—we can speed the turnaround to provide an actual product for the Marines,” he said.

How does SBIR help Marines?

Established by Congress in 1982, the SBIR program aims to strengthen the role of innovative small business concerns in federally funded research or research and development efforts. It is designed to stimulate innovation, foster and encourage participation from socially or economically disadvantaged small businesses, and increase the private sector commercialization of innovation.

The SBIR program gives small businesses a chance to propose innovative ideas that meet specific Marine Corps research and development needs. The Corps can use the SBIR program to perform advanced component development and prototypes research to expedite the transition of technology from the laboratory to operational use.

“The SBIR office is important because it can help streamline the acquisition process,” said Jaworski. “We don’t always have to look at the large defense conglomerates; we can also look at a small business that may have a good idea on how to improve mission capabilities.”

The Corps also leverages SBIR to mitigate risk in developmental or existing systems. For example, they might seek input from small businesses when a program office detects problems with a subcomponent of a large system, such as a vehicle platform.

“We’ll go out and see if a small business has a better solution,” said Kent. “If that works out, we’ll incorporate that subcomponent into the vehicle.”

Through the SBIR program, the Corps has addressed capability gaps and met challenging performance requirements. It has led to the creation of innovative products—such as medical equipment, infantry gear and vehicle subcomponents—that support the warfighter.

Kent and Jaworski hope the SBIR office continues to benefit Marines for years to come.

“The SBIR program can lead to great ideas,” said Kent. “The best part of working on the SBIR program is seeing a small business product make it into the hands of Marines.”