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Demand for federal contracts bolsters support for DEFTECH throughout the state

As interest in North Carolina as a defense innovation sector increases, the resources provided by DEFTECH are all the more valuable -- and more support is needed in order to facilitate that growth.

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By Abbey Slattery, WRAL Digital Solutions
This article was written for our sponsor, North Carolina Military Business Center (NCMBC).
Each year, the federal government aims to award a certain percentage of contracts to small businesses, amounting to billions of federal dollars. In fact, in 2020, $145.7 billion in federal contract dollars were awarded to small businesses across the country.

According to a report from the North Carolina Board of Science, Technology and Innovation, North Carolina has all of the right ingredients to rank within the top ten for the Department of Defense’s (DoD) federally funded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBTT) programs. Currently, however, the state is only ranked 20th in the nation.

The Defense Technology Transition Office (DEFTECH), an entity of the NCMBC, is helping lead the charge in raising that rank. By connecting DoD and the Department of Homeland Security with the state's innovation ecosystem, DEFTECH has already helped its 320 members land more than $10 million in defense contracts in 2021.

As interest in netting these federal contracts increases, so does the support for DEFTECH.

“As a State organization, we are funded annually and receive support through the NCMBC and Fayetteville Technical Community College, and we couldn’t do it without them. Continued and additional funding is necessary to serve the growing NC defense innovation ecosystem and to meet State objectives,” said Denny Lewis, director of DEFTECH.

DEFTECH is operated by military retirees, but funding is limited, which impacts the type and amount of services that the organization can provide. Currently, the four employees of DEFTECH work around the state to identify and cultivate trusted partnerships, often making the DoD aware of opportunities to work with innovative entities they identify.

As DoD needs and presence grows, DEFTECH has been working with some of the new DoD innovation organizations to encourage and help them establish and bolster their presence in North Carolina. Already, a NavalX Tech Bridge recently launched in Eastern North Carolina, and AFWERX — a Department of the Air Force entity — is eyeing the state for a new location. DEFTECH is also working with the NC Director of the National Security Innovation Network.

Dual-use technologies, or those that have both commercial and federal uses, are a particular area of focus.

“When you look at who is in North Carolina and why North Carolina is attractive for innovation, we're seeing more government innovation and outreach offices move here. We have the ability to tap into all of this innovation in one place, and then synchronize it around defense problems,” said Bob Burton, senior manager of DEFTECH. “These offices find this area attractive and that absolutely shows the power and potential of North Carolina’s innovation ecosystem.”

There are numerous academic, industry and military partnerships throughout the state that help organizations identify and capitalize on federal contract potential, including those between elements at Fort Bragg, the UNC system and Duke University that teach innovation techniques to local military members. The state’s university system has several centers of excellence that are either sponsored by DoD elements, or that have dual-use technologies of interest to DoD. DEFTECH works closely with these universities and community colleges.

With the help of these partnerships, interest in DEFTECH is continuing to grow. In 2021 alone, DEFTECH membership grew by 30%. With representatives from 320 innovation companies and more than 30 government personnel involved in various DoD and federal agencies, DEFTECH’s virtual events garnered almost 2,000 total attendees.

Moving forward, Lewis and Burton hope to continue working with commercial and federal partners to make North Carolina a top destination for national defense spending.

“To get North Carolina to the next level, we need to create a defense innovation accelerator, as outlined in the recent Department of Commerce Board of Science, Technology and Innovation Report. This will take significant time and a state-wide effort, but is necessary to remain competitive with other states. I envision something similar to the NC Biotech Center in RTP. DEFTECH is positioned to be the nucleus of this action, however, this will take considerable planning and funding,” said Lewis.

“DEFTECH is the only organization of its kind in the United States, and we have people calling in from all over the country because they want to join — which helps our companies in North Carolina find more teaming partners,” he continued. “Growing this defense innovation sector is supported by a lot of entities across the state, and we’re eager to continue maturing and adding value to our citizens and DoD with the help of that support.”

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

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