Want to do business with the Navy? New ‘tech bridge’ will make it a little easier
By KATHERINE HAFNER | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: May 13, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — It’s hard to just walk onto the world’s largest naval base and strike up a conversation about how things could be done better.
But the Navy thinks a lot could be gained from more collaboration between military minds and those in the rest of the community.
That’s why NavalX, the Navy’s “workforce super connector,” is launching the new Mid-Atlantic Tech Bridge — one of a dozen nationwide.
The idea is to take problems within the Navy and get people around Hampton Roads to help solve those issues and capitalize on the solutions.
"That in a nutshell is what a tech bridge is designed to do,” said Cmdr. Bobby Hanvey, the project’s director.
Hanvey is the only uniformed military member to lead one of the bridges, which include locations in California, Florida and the Midwest. Southern Maryland and the Capital region were also announced Tuesday.
The bridges grew out of a need for better communication and efficiency within the Department of Navy, Hanvey said. There are plenty of good projects where the Navy connects with small and large businesses or laboratories, but not everyone knows what’s going on, he said.
“What I hear out in industry is, ‘we’d love to know what your problems are,’ but they don’t know where to look,” he said — especially for businesses without an existing Defense contract. “The tech bridge is designed to lower those barriers to entry.”
In that vein, the tech bridge will have physical office locations that community partners can visit, without the heavy-handedness of accessing a military installation. The first will be in Norfolk, Hanvey said, with others on the Peninsula and elsewhere to eventually follow. The community can also expect to see “prize challenge" competitions soliciting ideas.
The problems that the tech bridge aims to solve are not military-exclusive, he said.
“Building a nuclear submarine obviously is a problem only the Navy has, but better ways to handle our software and handle our networks — those are solutions the industry is actually out-researching and out-developing what the government is, so there’s tremendous opportunity,” Hanvey said.
Though it’s dubbed a tech bridge, the solutions can be beyond software-based, he added. One solution they developed in the Midwest was fixing a heat exchanger problem on ships. It eliminated backlogs and immediately saved about $30 million, Hanvey said.
When a business has worked on a solution, it won’t be handed over to the Navy. That business can then commercialize their work on the other side, unlike the way things are done now, Hanvey said.
So far there have been “zero dollars invested” in the project aside from time spent, Hanvey said, because it’s taking resources that are already funded and building better connections between them.
The Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Dam Neck Activity in Virginia Beach and Carderock Norfolk Detachment, as well as Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic Hampton Road Detachment, are taking lead roles in the bridge.
NavalX signed Gangplank, a coworking nonprofit, as its first community partner in the region and is working to finalize others. The idea is to work with everyone from small community businesses, to Ferguson Plumbing, to NASA Langley and Old Dominion University, as well as others in the military such as Air Combat Command in Hampton.
“The ecosystem here has been ready for this for a long time,” Hanvey said, noting other locations are spending more time building a framework. “That’s a real reflection of Hampton Roads."
He stressed they weren’t building something the Navy would need to sustain by itself.
"We’re seeding something the entire region can use,” he said.