RENO, Nev. – About 70 innovation spark cells launched around the world since the U.S. Air Force debuted AFWERX in 2017, with a majority in the active-duty realm.
Earlier this month, the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard, also known as the "High Rollers," became the newest Guard unit to participate with the creation of "Silver State Spark."
"For more than a decade we've seen the private sector, particularly the tech sector, move in this direction toward promoting new ideas and entrepreneurship as a bottom-up approach," said Col. Jacob Hammons, 152nd Airlift Wing commander, who began planning for the creation of a spark cell shortly after he took command in November. "A spark cell gives Airmen of all ranks the opportunity to think creatively toward new and innovative solutions to the challenges they face in the daily conduct of flying, fighting and winning our nation's wars."
Maj. Greg Green, the 152nd Airlift Wing's spark team facilitator, was among about 100 military and civilian members of the Department of Defense who attended a three-day spark cell training Feb. 19-21 at the AFWERX hub in Las Vegas.
"A spark cell is a grassroots innovation program that empowers Airmen to bring tomorrow's tools to the warfighter today," said Maj. Tony Perez, AFWERX spark director, who organized the training in Las Vegas.
Each spark cell is different, mainly because units receive autonomy in the development of their own program.
Green's program will give Airmen – with commander approval – up to five days during technician work hours or annual training days to research and plan their proposal. An Airman can then present the proposal to their commander for approval.
"Airmen are already approaching us with interesting ideas," Green said. "There's no doubt a demand for improving the way we do business."
Based largely on the startup model, spark cells encourage Airmen to act as intrapreneurs, which is widely defined as a person working in a large corporation or government who takes the initiative to create new ideas, products or processes. Some spark cells hold "hackathon" or collider events. The Air Force is hosting Spark Collider in Austin, Texas, March 10-11 to unite business innovators with the Department of Defense and venture capital stakeholders.
With StartUpNV and the University of Nevada, Reno's Innevation Center, both in Reno, along with the emergence of tech companies in the region, there are several options for Silver State Spark to connect with community partners, Green said.
"There's definitely potential for growth," he said. "We just need to reach out to our community partners and encourage Airmen here in Reno to come to the table with their ideas."