DEFTECH driving high-tech defense innovation in North Carolina

DEFTECH, an entity of the North Carolina Military Business Center, connects state businesses and academics with federal opportunities.

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By Abbey Slattery, WRAL Digital Solutions
This article was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Military Business Center (NCMBC).

The 2022 federal defense budget includes the largest request the Department of Defense has ever made for research, development, testing and evaluation, sitting at $130 billion.

North Carolina has several ongoing State-sponsored programs to help local innovators take advantage of funding opportunities offered by DoD contracts, including the Defense Technology Transition Office, or DEFTECH. DEFTECH is a State-funded entity of the North Carolina Military Business Center that offers a variety of free services to help North Carolina tech companies win business with federal defense, homeland and law enforcement agencies.

DEFTECH serves the DoD, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and other federal agencies in the innovation ecosystem by scouting the state for breakthrough technologies; coaching industry to help them identify defense applications for commercial technology; communicating federal technology needs that may position businesses to meet requirements; representing North Carolina to federal customers; conducting emerging technology forums and serving as the North Carolina liaison to federal innovation offices.

“We have a vibrant, unique and inclusive innovation ecosystem in North Carolina. Private companies, academia, public-private partnerships, science and technology advisors at our state’s military bases, investors and organizations supporting and developing new, innovative, dual-use technologies often work together,” said Denny Lewis, director of DEFTECH. “All states have innovators, all states have universities — but in our state, we have warfighters and military innovators from Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune and Seymour Johnson Airforce Base. We aim to connect with them, understand their needs and introduce them to local entities that can help develop technologies and solutions quickly.”

DEFTECH serves North Carolina’s high-tech industry and research communities as well as the DoD, DHS and other federal agencies in the innovation ecosystem by scouting the state for breakthrough technologies. Once companies and businesses have been identified, DEFTECH communicates federal technology needs and coaches them on how to identify defense applications for commercial technology.

Often, it’s more about thinking of application potential, and making slight changes to an existing or near-ready commercial product or technology to address a critical defense requirement.

“We most often consider late-stage technologies or new and early approaches and prototypes that can enable or deliver a capability into the hands of warfighters. You have to understand the private sector needs and the military end-user requirements to help bridge and explain if a particular commercial technology can be used by warfighters,” said Bob Burton, senior manager at DEFTECH.

In addition to helping companies with technology transition, DEFTECH also provides individual feedback to better position innovators in this marketplace and hosts emerging technology, business and educational events, bringing together innovators from industry, academia and government.

The leadership at DEFTECH has served in the military as well as industries in the innovation ecosystem, which gives them a unique and valuable perspective on the marketplace.

“We've been on both sides of this equation, so we understand the challenges that each side faces. Both parties want to solve the same problem, but they’re looking at it two different ways and under different constraints. That is why DEFTECH can help identify, communicate and facilitate engagements with all stakeholders,” said Lewis.

In order to break down some of these misconceptions and build rapport, DEFTECH regularly hosts events that bring together thought leaders from both areas. Some of these opportunities include:

  • A Defense Technology DEFTECH symposium at Fayetteville Technical Community College, which highlights local innovative companies and is held in conjunction with the Association of the United States Army’s Warfighter Symposium in Fayetteville (July 26-28, 2022) leadership at Fayetteville Tech.
  • The TIDE Program, which allows North Carolina businesses to present and demonstrate products and services to DoD audiences.
  • Online news and opportunities curated through DEFTECH and a Mobilize collaboration site.
  • DEFTECH weekly Friday Coffee Calls, a prime vehicle for collaboration among industry, academic and government entities, featuring expert speakers discussing DoD needs, opportunities, tech trends, funding and more.
  • DEFTECH’s “Technology Talk” podcast.

Because of the potential that the state’s unique ecosystem brings, North Carolina is well-positioned to be a leader in DoD funding for defense innovation.

“It's about the culture. It’s where innovators and disruptors gather together and build this ecosystem that operates synergistically in order to solve problems,” said Burton. “At the end of the day, it's all about working with commercial partners, government partners and academia to provide a collection of ideas to leverage innovation and new approaches and to solve problems.”

This article was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Military Business Center (NCMBC).