Navy creates 'Hawaii Tech Bridge' to connect military with local businesses
By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: December 11, 2020
HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — The Navy has established its newest "Tech Bridges" in Hawaii and in Panama City, Fla., with the Hawaii branch expected to be a "super connector " tying together state and local government, industry and academia to solve Navy problems.
James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, announced the 14th and 15th Tech Bridges, which are located in the United States and abroad, in a Zoom call Wednesday with reporters.
The Navy said the Hawaii Tech Bridge will benefit from "direct links " to major military commands in tandem with a "flourishing technology sector and a world-class academic institution."
The Hawaii effort is currently partnered with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport Detachment Pacific on Ford Island, the Hawaii Technology Development Corp. and the University of Hawaii Office of Innovation and Commercialization.
Coordination is ongoing for teaming with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Marine Corps Forces Pacific.
"Obviously Hawaii is a key piece for us from a national security standpoint and from a Navy standpoint " and the state has a "unique nexus of folks thinking hard about how the Navy and Marine Corps are going to operate, " Geurts said.
But for small business startups, the Department of the Navy is a big institution that can be pretty daunting, he noted.
"And if you're a startup and you have an idea, particularly if you're there on the island, trying to find the right person to connect to somewhere in the Department of the Navy can be a challenging endeavor, " Geurts said. "And so what the Tech Bridge is, it's kind of like you get dialed into the network."
Geurts said his ultimate goal is to "make it as easy and efficient for somebody who has an idea to get that to somebody, to the right person in the Department of the Navy."
Tech areas identified for the Hawaii effort—which is being established by the Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific—are command and control ; communications ; computers /networking ; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance ; cyberdefense ; space systems and resilience, particularly energy resilience.
Jason Chung, vice president for military affairs with the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, said the Hawaii Tech Bridge "is a phenomenal opportunity and great initiative."
Roadblocks to local business involvement in the Navy's complicated federal system could be eased with the approach.
"When you talk about the mission statement—the purpose of the Tech Bridge is to kind of bring in academia, military, small business, innovation and the tech sector (and meet ) off-base, where it's much easier to have that collaboration. It's a really great environment, " Chung said.
Tech Bridges, initiated in 2019, have funded $45 million in projects to solve naval problems, awarded more than $2 million in "prize challenges " to nontraditional industry partners, sponsored $37.5 million in small-business innovation research targeting maintenance and sustainment, and helped distribute over $800, 000 to COVID-19 response efforts, according to the Navy.
Whitney Tallarico, Tech Bridge program director under NavalX, a Navy workforce connector, gave a simple example of a Tech Bridge in action.
"There was a problem out in Puget Sound Naval Shipyard with heat condenser cleaning, " she said. "And it was not going well. It's a lengthy process, labor intensive and slightly dangerous. We put that problem in and we were able to get an integrated solution within a year."
Neal Miyake, business deputy at Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific and the new Hawaii Tech Bridge director, said the effort aims to host collaborative sessions with partners, hold prize challenges, connect small businesses with business opportunities and enable local talent and technology to participate in naval military exercises and experimentation.
Miyake said the plan is to take military command needs and convey those to local industry—with communication in part through the Hawaii Technology Development Corp. as a state-sponsored organization.
"That's the primary avenue that we're going to get the word out, " he said. "And then, we will be working with UH as far as the innovation and commercialization office. ... So what we're trying to do is connect the Navy needs and the Marine Corps needs with the solutions that the local industry can provide."