Army selects initial 15 companies for new xTechPrime small business initiative

By Dan Schere / February 15, 2024 at 4:04 PM

The Army selected 15 small businesses for its initial xTechPrime initiative -- a new program that connects small businesses with technology integrators.

The xTech program was started in 2018 by former Army acquisition chief Bruce Jette as a way to spur innovation by connecting the service with small businesses through prize competitions.

The xTechPrime competition, started in April 2023, “will challenge small businesses to work together in teams with technology integrators to submit their innovative solutions that contribute to the Army’s current modernization goals.”

The Army does about $400 million per year in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) activity, current acquisition head Doug Bush told reporters during a briefing Feb. 14 at the Pentagon. Since the xTech program was started, there have been 30 competitions, more than $20 million in cash prizes and 1,374 awards given out, he said.

Through the xTech competitions, Bush said the Army is trying to make SBIR “more focused, faster and targeted.”

“We've got this down by centralizing contracting expertise for small business to, like, 30-day contract awards. I mean, that's a dramatic change from the past where companies might have to wait, like, 200-plus days, which they can't because they're small,” he said.

Matt Willis, the director of Army Prize Competitions and the Army Applied SBIR Program, said the service received 377 submissions for xTechPrime from businesses across the United States, with winners being chosen based on the technical solution they were proposing and the ability to demonstrate a “high propensity for transition and integration into or with an integrator.”

The 15 winning companies were chosen in December, with each receiving $40,000 in cash prizes. This will be followed by Direct to Phase II SBIR prototyping awards of up to $2 million each.

The 15 companies selected were:

  • Alitheon -- “Digital fingerprinting to overcome distance and complexity for supply chain security”
  • Amprius Technologies -- “Reduce weight, double endurance with Amprius Silicon Lithium-Ion Cells.”
  • Atomics -- “Sustainable, molecular data storage”
  • AxNano -- “Mobile supercritical water oxidation (mSCWO) for treatment of PFAS in Army waste streams”
  • DotBliss -- “Screen-printed, textile-based interactive touch displays with spectral control, electronic sensors with haptic feedback enabling covert communication”
  • Enveil -- “Encrypted machine learning model evaluation for model & data integrity”
  • FluxWorks -- “Non-contact, lubrication-free magnetic gear integrated motor generator for reduced maintenance, increased survivability, extended range, and enhanced payload capacity of Autonomous Vehicles”
  • GDI -- “Scalable 100% Silicon anodes for superior energy storage”
  • Latent AI -- “MLOps for optimized and secured edge AI”
  • Lunewave -- “Luneburg lens enabled broadband RF signal detection, direction finding and geolocation system in a drone network”
  • Mesodyne -- “Light cell power generation for long-endurance, high-reliability autonomous systems”
  • Modal AI -- “Soldier borne unmanned aerial 3D geospatial intelligence”
  • Neurable -- “Non-invasive brain-computer interface for soldier performance optimization”
  • Notch -- “No power, low SWaP, RF metasurface GPS anti-jam system for autonomous vehicles”
  • Teradar -- “Enhancing target detection through Teradar’s breakthrough sensor technology for advanced perception.”

Willis said the Army wanted to focus on companies that specialized in focus areas such as climate/clean tech, artificial intelligence/machine learning, autonomy and other research and development programs such as Project Linchpin -- the service’s first pipeline for AI/ML.

“We really wanted to broaden the aperture and widen the funnel for small businesses contributing to the Army tech base while, you know, really foundationally changing the value proposition for these companies,” he said, speaking at the same roundtable.

The prototyping awards will begin either this month or next month, and will last 18-24 months each, Willis said.

“And there might be an opportunity at the end of that either to have another follow-on award to broaden the R&D, or if the prototype is ready and capable, to be integrated into a system. Then the Army can directly fund that follow-on contract,” he said.

To date, the Army has awarded more than $20 million through the xTech program, and that has yielded nearly $180 million in follow-on contracts, Willis said.

“Essentially for every one dollar in cash that we’re providing, the Army is going back and investing $8 in follow-on research and development,” he said.