Don't overlook emerging tech as a way to access new customers

In the fourth of our series of Washington Technology Industry Days, we take deep dive into the IT priorities, opportunities and procurement culture at some of the leading funders and managers of emerging technology projects.

We hosted representatives from agencies such as DARPA, IARPA and NIST, and each government executive emphasized a desire to partner effectively with contractors and highlighted opportunities for contractors to keep their eyes on in the near future.

Our next industry day will focus on cloud and mobility and will take place on Nov. 10.

Federal R&D Strategic Initiatives: A Look Ahead

Dr. Keith Marzullo, director, Federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD), National Coordination Office (NCO)

Marzullo began with an overview of NITRD, then moved on to talk about how the agency’s areas of focus.

NITRD refers to its program areas of focus as “buckets,” and there are eight of them:

  • Cybersecurity and information assurance
  • High-end computing
  • High confidence software and systems
  • Human computer interaction and information management
  • Large scale networking
  • Social, economic and workforce implications
  • Software design and productivity

“The big one here is high-end computing and infrastructure applications. This is where all of the supercomputers are, and of course that area is fairly large,” Marzullo said, but noted that it has been relatively flat since 2009.

In fact, most of the buckets have been flat, he added. “The one that’s grown the most is human computer interaction and information management. What you’re seeing there is the growth of big data,”

Cybersecurity has also grown for obvious reasons, Marzullo said.

IARPA: Meeting the Needs of the Intelligence Community

Dr. Catherine Cotell, director, Office of Incisive Analysis, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity

Cotell began by delineating research areas that IARPA is focused on, including anticipatory intelligence, tools for analysts, computation and cyber, and collection technologies, which are the areas where contractors should align themselves.

Cotell went over a few of IARPA’s programs, one of which is a facial recognition software that will aim to prevent terrorist attacks of any scale by recognizing the perpetrator’s face.

The agency competes its contracts as full and open competition, but for small businesses who want to get involved, “the short answer is to come to a proposer’s day, or take a look at the [broad agency announcements] we have on the street now and keep monitoring our website to see what BAAs are coming out,” Cotell said.

Technology Transition: Supporting the Fleet

Dr. Thomas Killion, director of Technology, Office of Naval Research

Killion noted that the Naval Science and Technology Directorate’s investment strategy is guided by nine focus areas, he said.

  • Assure access to maritime battlespace
  • Autonomy and unmanned systems
  • Electromagnetic maneuver warfare
  • Expeditionary and irregular warfare
  • Information dominance/cyber
  • Platform design and survivability
  • Power and energy
  • Strike and integrated defense
  • Warfighter performance

Killion also said that the agency utilizes the Small Business Innovation Research program, which onboards new companies three times a year.

As for the Department of Navy’s fiscal 2016 budget, $17.9 billion is requested for the research, development, technology and engineering, $2.1 billion of which is dedicated to the Office of Naval Research and the Science and Technology directorate.

DARPA: Navigating a Mix of Opportunities

Susan Nichols, program director, SBIR/STTR program manager, DARPA Small Business Programs Office

Nichols began talking about how companies and small businesses in particular can do business with DARPA, and the ways are manifold.

First, companies should become familiar with the challenges and opportunities of national security, Nichols said. Then, they should contact a DARPA program manager to talk about the company’s idea before submitting a white paper or proposal in order to familiarize itself with the kind of work required.

“This is good for any organization you’re trying to do business with—to contact someone ahead of time. Contact the program  manager or someone within that office to get more information, as much as you can, about the direction and technology we’re trying to achieve,” Nichols said. That will help you better allot your resources and write a better proposal, she said.

Finally, companies should visit and to look for broad agency announcements, research announcements and RFPs.

As for companies who want to partake in the Small Business Innovation Research or Small Business Technology Transfer program, they should take the following to heart, Nichols said:

  • Read and follow solicitation instructions
  • Focus on the topic and information provided by the author
  • Take advantage of pre-release perid
  • Emphasize your innovative approach
  • Address technical barriers
  • Highlight past successes
  • Update company commercialization record

NIST: Filling the Cybersecurity Gaps

Gavin O’Brien, computer scientist, The National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, The National Institute of Standards and Technology

O’Brien highlighted some sectors of focus that contractors should keep in mind, which include:

  • Health IT
  • Energy
  • Financial
  • Transportation
  • Retail

“If you’re interested in a particular problem, you can help us find our use case. We publish all of our documents and we ask for public feedback. Then, in the federal registry notice, we publish when we’re doing a new project and we invite people to come forward with their technologies,” O’Brien said.

He also emphasized the need to file a "letter of interest," a form that his office uses to identify companies that it work with on particular projects.

About the Author

Mark Hoover is a senior staff writer with Washington Technology. You can contact him at, or connect with him on Twitter at @mhooverWT.

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