By Master Sgt. Heidi West, 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 17, 2018
Creating conversation about innovation is a start, but providing the tools to bring innovation to life is essential.
The opening of the Air Force AFWERX-Vegas storefront marks an official invitation for innovators and entrepreneurs of all backgrounds to congregate, ideate and fabricate solutions for today’s warfighter.
“What we are trying to be is that techie startup, mixed with the Air Force, trying to create new ideas and find innovative solutions,” said Bobby Mack, marketing manager for AFWERX. “The goal for AFWERX is to break those cultural barriers and have an open mind toward innovation from all different areas.”
As the husband of an Air Force flight operator, Mack is personally passionate about the initiative behind the AFWERX program that allows those not serving in the military to personally contribute on the frontlines.
“AFWERX is going to be a huge asset for innovating solutions for the Air Force to serve the warfighter and serve the operator to make their jobs easier – to make their jobs better,” he said. “The way that we’re able to innovate and think outside the box to help the military, I feel like in some small way we have a part in positively affecting the Air Force and, ultimately, serving our country.”
As a starter business, Mack emphasizes the importance of keeping all ideas on the table.
“We accept everything because we don’t know what the next solution for the Air Force will be or what’s plausible,” Mack explained. “We are creating solutions that have never been invented or seen before. I feel like a lot of people who get involved with AFWERX will feel enabled and empowered, whether they are employed or just have a brilliant idea that people have already shot down.”
Mack likens the AFWERX program to crowdsourcing, which is the collaboration of great minds to solve an identified problem. Innovators are encouraged to contact the AFWERX staff via phone, the official website or social media channels.
Ideas do not have to be hashed out before submitting to AFWERX because the facility was designed for creative thinking, said Erin Erickson, event logistics manager for AFWERX.
“Submissions can be as simple as, ‘I have this idea. I want to morph it or change it to fit the Air Force needs,’” Mack said. “We will arrange for a meet and greet, where our first floor is dedicated to innovating and fabricating. What innovators have on paper, we can create with 3D printers. What they have in their minds, we may be able to create with shopbots or carbon-fiber ovens. Whatever it may be, we can make that come to life. We can take the idea a step further.”
The AFWERX facility was created specifically to bring in new ideas and expertise to the Air Force community. Therefore, in addition to space for collaboration and fabrication, the AFWERX facility will host one event per month and multiple tours per week for the public, Erickson said.
“This program adds an inviting element to the previous Air Force idea programs,” said Erickson, an Air Force veteran. “I hope to use my experience and background to bring in new business to this facility, understand the needs and wants of our customers, and create an inviting workplace for our visitors.