DARPA looking for Commercial Accelerators to help transition funded research to development

By Georgina DiNardo  / April 17, 2024

The chief of commercial strategy at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency told Inside Defense the agency is searching for multiple Commercial Accelerator providers to aid in scaling acceleration efforts and bringing DARPA-funded projects to the development stage.

“DARPA’s objective is to have approximately four to six qualified Commercial Accelerator providers to advise and assist DARPA’s Commercial Strategy team,” a DARPA notice posted on March 8 and updated on April 5 said. “Multiple providers will ensure the best fit for each performer, foster competition and infuse business development capability.”

Sha-Chelle Manning, DARPA’s chief of commercial strategy, told Inside Defense that selected commercial accelerators would aid in technological ability assessments and connecting industry with DOD.

“Successful respondents would provide personnel with technological and industry proficiency to conduct iterative assessments of technologies' commercial viability and go-to-market strategies, identify entrepreneurial talent and connect to customers and private investment capital,” she said.

Manning said that this move to integrate commercial accelerators into DARPA use aims to fight one of the greatest challenges in defense research and development: getting warfighters the needed capabilities quickly.

She said DARPA’s Embedded Entrepreneur Initiative (EEI) has been working to address this issue.

“Embedded Entrepreneurs support DARPA research teams in accelerating new products, services and capabilities for DOD and commercial markets for national and economic security,” she said.

Manning noted DARPA’s Commercial Strategy team aided in managing over $1 billion in “follow-on private investment capital” of DARPA technologies by domestic corporations.

“The Commercial Accelerators effort seeks to build on the success of the EEI by accelerating the transition of DARPA-funded research and development efforts and providing a way to scale the EEI program for the nation,” she said. “We are seeking the strongest accelerator organizations and private capital groups to respond to this opportunity to assist in the execution of that goal.”

Manning said resulting awards from the notice would be “blanket purchase agreements (BPAs) with entities, rather than a job description or a call for an individual to respond.”

The BPAs will last three years, with an “anticipated aggregate ceiling amount [of] $25 million,” according to the notice.

Selected Commercial Accelerators will aid in awarding call orders through DARPA, ranging in price.

“The anticipated aggregate volume of individual Firm Fixed Price (FFP) call orders to support various performers’ transition activities is 60 to 100 per year, ranging from $50k to $250k each,” the notice said.

Proposals to become a commercial accelerator are due May 6.

“The timeline for BPA awards will be dependent on proposals received,” Manning said.