HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. – Innovation experts from the Department of Defense and the Greater Boston innovation ecosystem gathered at the Lincoln North facility in Lincoln, Massachusetts, May 16, to connect with Hanscom AFB personnel and share valuable resources.
The event, held by The Lantern: Hanscom Collaboration and Innovation Center, featured panel discussions and presentations from several organizations, including the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, Northeastern University’s Kostas Research Institute, The University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Applied Research Corporation, and the National Security Innovation Network, as well as remarks from Team Hanscom senior leaders.
“Innovation is important, hard, and a team effort,” said Maj. Gen. Anthony Genatempo, program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks. “These types of forums are meant to connect dots that have not been connected before and I truly hope we’re able to do that. Innovation needs to be fostered and we need to give our teams the opportunity to excel.”
Col. Bai Lan Zhu, Lantern executive director, said she recognized a need to increase Hanscom AFB personnel’s awareness of the organizations and tools available to help them innovate.
“About six months ago, I realized I’m only learning about these resources, pathways, and organizations now and I bet there are a lot of members in the Hanscom workforce who have not been exposed to them either,” she said. “This event is a great opportunity to bring everyone together to learn, make interpersonal connections, and carve out specific projects they could go after.”
Zhu and her team designed the event to be an education and networking opportunity.
“My hope is that the organizations that Hanscom personnel are exposed to at this symposium can partner with us to deliver a capability to the warfighter faster than we otherwise would have had they not been at the symposium,” she said.
During her keynote speech, Col. Taona Enriquez, 66th Air Base Group and installation commander, highlighted the importance of connecting with the organizations that make up the area’s innovation ecosystem.
“The Lantern and our Hanscom Innovation Team facilitate these kinds of partnerships throughout the region,” she said. “The work done by our program offices and partners is vitally important to maintaining an advantage no adversary can match. The responsibility to continuously redefine the cutting edge rests with us. The Department of the Air Force cannot stand still. We must innovate and develop new technologies that will allow us to maintain our competitive edge.”
For 1st Lt. Jacob Francisco, the information shared during the symposium has immediate, practical applications to his role as a program manager in PEO Digital’s AWACS Division.
“My day-to-day work has involvement with a lot of these organizations, so the more of them I know, the better I can do my job,” he said. “Having this exposure is critical. Having more understanding can only lead to me getting things into the warfighters’ hands faster.”
Breaking down barriers to collaboration and communication was a key theme throughout the symposium.
“What we’ve learned over the past couple of years working in this area is that readiness and relevance really matter,” said Cait Brumme, CEO of MassChallenge, during the Small Business Innovation Research panel discussion. “[It takes] education, awareness, and openness on both sides of the DOD and the small business to work together in ways that may be more novel, and require perseverance.”
Event organizers said having the symposium in person was key to facilitating valuable sidebar discussions and real-time networking.
“Now that we’re able to meet in person again, we’re reestablishing these relationships and networks,” said Eric Brimhall, Lantern program manager and symposium project lead. “Being in person is important, because it sparks memories, new thoughts, and helps us to collaborate.”
While much of the event focused on innovation within the acquisition space, Chief Master Sgt. Alan Weary, installation command chief, reminded attendees that innovation is everyone’s responsibility.
“Everything that we’ve discussed here today is very universal,” he said. “Whether you’re an engineer, a personnelist, a medic, a contractor, a program manager, or a childcare worker, you matter and you have purpose that fuels our Air Force’s innovation.”
Maj. Joshua Smart, 66th Medical Squadron administrator, said the knowledge he gained at the symposium will help him encourage a culture of innovation in his squadron.
“In the medical world, we are constantly looking for ways to improve our processes and innovate not only software, but hardware and all of the equipment we use to take care of our patients and provide ready, reliable care for DOD beneficiaries,” he said. “Understanding more about the services that are out there helps me point people in the right direction with innovation projects.”
Brimhall said the Lantern teams’ hope is that in the future when symposium attendees “hit a roadblock or a dead end” with one of their innovation efforts something that they learned at this event gives them a new avenue to move forward.