New site will boost the Air Force Research Laboratory’s ability to drive innovation

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – A new downtown Dayton collaboration site is expected to bolster the two-way flow of innovation for the Air Force.

On January 30, Wright Brothers Institute (WBI) signed a lease for approximately 8,000 square feet inside 444 E. Second Street in downtown Dayton. Pursuant to its partnership intermediary agreement with WBI, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) will be a principal utilizer of the property. This puts AFRL in a better position to lead, collaborate and innovate.

With the new space, the two organizations want to create an innovation district in downtown Dayton by pursuing multiple objectives including:

• Increase commercialization by connecting Air Force technology and people to a wider network of licensing, start-up and investment opportunities;

• Capture outside innovation for AFRL by connecting teams from the lab with regional and national subject matter experts to work on AFRL’s most challenging problems and to leverage outside investment for military applications; and

• Attract the best and brightest workforce to the Dayton region while providing more visibility for AFRL as a career choice.

Creating more intentional collaborations – putting AFRL scientists and engineers just a call away from resources, and arranging for them to collide – will be a cornerstone of the effort.

"The focus of this is how we get innovation flowing inward (to the Air Force) while getting our intellectual property flowing outward," said William "Bill" Harrison, director of the Small Business Directorate at AFRL. "This will also allow us to work with businesses that traditionally have not done business with us."

An existing small business hub – staffed by WBI, and in collaboration with AFRL – will be expanding into the new space. WBI’s technology commercialization team also will be moving there, providing better access to work with AFRL teams on intellectual property strategy and increasing the opportunity to foster licensing opportunities with entrepreneurial communities.

"This creates the proximity to embed AFRL teams to begin interacting with new partners, startups, entrepreneurs and other non-traditional partners," said Les McFawn, director of WBI. "This is essentially an experiment, over a two- to three-year period, with innovative research teams and processes."

Additionally, the new location will include a second "Maker Hub" operation, which will offer AFRL teams and community partners more resources to rapidly prototype new technology ideas. Another benefit of the new location is that it allows WBI and AFRL to be good community stewards by investing in downtown Dayton’s economic revival.

"We hope this new space serves as a tipping point, attracting companies from outside the region to work with AFRL as well as other companies in the area," McFawn said.

AFRL – headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio – manages a multi-billion dollar science and technology portfolio to address specific needs, but also is required to meet technology transfer benchmarks.

Commercialization typically spurs faster development of technology – allowing it to permeate society for the greater good – while potentially adding features and lowering future costs for the Air Force. Additionally, commercialization helps fuel the economy by driving job growth.

WBI is an AFRL partnership intermediary designed to support collaboration and technology transfer. In addition to its benefits to the Air Force, this new space will expand WBI’s reach and leverage its existing infrastructure as a resource. WBI already operates locations including Riverside (the Tec^Edge Innovation and Collaboration Center) and Dayton (Tec^Edge Works, a large prototyping space).

While there are elements that will be common to all three WBI locations – and all will continue to focus on innovation through collaboration – each site has a different main focus and has differing degrees of public openness. McFawn said the new downtown location will be much more oriented toward the public than other WBI sites.

"The AFRL Team has responded well to the 2015 Commander’s Challenge to increase intellectual property and promote commercialization," said AFRL Executive Director Doug Ebersole. "In 2016, patent applications increased 65 percent and 16 start-ups were formed leveraging AFRL technologies. This new innovation hub, coupled with our close partnership with Wright Brothers Institute, will enable AFRL to accelerate our response going forward."

The new space is expected to be ready for operation in May.