DOD small business chief to restart Rapid Innovation Fund

By Audrey Decker / February 21, 2023

The Pentagon is planning to bring back the Rapid Innovation Fund -- a pot of money initially created to help small technology companies bridge "the valley of death" that hasn't been funded for several years.

Historically funded through congressional adds, the RIF was established in the FY-11 National Defense Authorization Act to accelerate the fielding of innovative technologies into military systems.

While the Defense Department has never put the RIF into a president's budget, “we've now committed to doing that,” according to Farooq Mitha, director of DOD’s Office of Small Business Programs.

Congress made the RIF a permanent program in FY-17 to help Small Business Innovation Research awardees begin the next phase of funding to continue to mature their technologies and enter production, Mitha said today during a National Defense Industrial Association webinar.

In previous years, the total amount appropriated to RIF was typically around $250 million per year, with projects capped at $3 million and limited to two years of funding.

However, Mitha said, the program has not been funded since FY-19 after the office of the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics was split into the USD for acquisition and sustainment and the USD for research and engineering.

Now, Mitha said, the RIF is under the purview of the DOD’s small business office and “we're going to be planning for it.”

“I want to make sure that with that program being back into OSBP, we can really resource it the way it needs to be to support our innovative companies that are really trying to move and develop their technologies to go from prototype to production,” he said. 

Funding RIF again will help small businesses become part of DOD’s supply chain, commercialize new technologies and understand the business developmental assistance programs available, Mitha said.

Mitha said that while he is director of OSBP he plans to “get all these programs back to where they need to be.”

In addition to the RIF, Mitha noted that the Pentagon’s small business grant program -- SBIR -- needs to be protected as it was reauthorized in FY-23 only a day before its initiatives were set to expire.

“When I came into this job, I noticed that our programs were really at risk. SBIR’s reauthorization nearly lapsed at the end of the last fiscal year,” he said. “We got it temporarily across the finish line. That's still a program that needs to be made permanent.”