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  • Innovation in MGM

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    Having both MGMWERX and Business Enterprise Systems Product Innovation (BESPIN) in the capital city continues to pay big dividends. The ongoing public-private collaboration with other area assets is proving to be a powerful combo that’s bearing fruit for local businesses and River Region students. Here’s how the two organizations got started in the capital city, what they’ve accomplished and a preview of their plans to keep the innovation going and growing.

    MGMWERX was created under a Partnership Intermediary Agreement between DEFENSEWERX and the Air Force Research Laboratory to align with the education initiatives of Air University. It opened its doors in January 2019. The Chamber’s TechMGM initiative, launched in October 2018 to focus on developing the tech and innovation ecosystem in Montgomery, was instrumental in MGMWERX coming to the city, according to Charisse D. Stokes, TechMGM’s Executive Director. “TechMGM has spent its initial years working very closely with our military mission partners to not only sustain but grow their missions and the greater ecosystem,” she said. “One of the results of these efforts were to stand up an organization partnering with Air University to help solve warfighter challenges by leveraging technology and innovation, MGMWERX.” Located downtown within the Innovation District for the last two years, MGMWERX has been welcoming technologists, airmen, entrepreneurs and innovators to collaborate on the toughest problems and challenges for our country.

    And TechMGM didn’t stop with MGMWERX. It continues to expand its education and workforce development engagement and as a piece of this, opened The Lab on Dexter in August 2021. This facility brings together small business entrepreneurs, community members, tech professionals and academia in an environment to learn, network and exchange ideas to diversify the local economy. “MGMWERX and the Lab on Dexter are two innovation facilities that are changing the landscape of our vibrant downtown,” Stokes said. “These organizations are equipping entrepreneurs, minority businesses and professionals with the resources and access they need to succeed. We are so grateful to have mission partners at Maxwell AFB and Gunter Annex that partner with us to grow and develop our small business and tech community with lots of opportunities to engage.”


    HOW IT’S GOING: Currently, the Montgomery TechLab is working hand in hand with MGMWERX and BESPIN to introduce startups and tech companies across the country to the resources in the Montgomery region. Marcus Shaw, Founding Director at the TechLab, explained. “It is critical that the development of the Montgomery ecosystem leverages assets in place while also telling its story to tech-based companies outside the region,” he said. “Our accelerator program partners with MGMWERX and BESPIN to connect tech-based ventures with networks and opportunities in the region’s defense sector. The goal is to attract companies and talent to establish a presence in the region.”

    Fearless, a digital services firm based out of Baltimore, Maryland, that now has an office in Montgomery is one such company, and Bryant Noel, Scrum Master, stressed how collaboration with TechMGM, MGMWERX and other groups is a natural extension of the company’s ethos. “We believe in creating software with a soul and investing our time and talents within the local community. In alignment with our values, we have been coordinating with and participating in a number of local communities over the past few years we have been here,” Noel said. “We work with the Montgomery-based BESPIN office in its continued pursuit of building better software through innovation and growth. We take the lessons learned through the efforts with our community and business partners to provide ongoing community engagement through our work with TechMGM, HackMGM, MGMWERX and the local universities.”

    MGMWERX Director Trent Edwards outlined why the Chamber and the City of Montgomery’s initial and continuing support of MGMWERX is key. “We are grateful to the Chamber and City because they provided us space for three years and resources to cover rent and utilities,” he said. “That was a huge commitment from the community and helped us get off the ground. It also sent a strong and important signal to the Air Force about our community’s commitment to innovation and our military assets.”

    WHAT’S IN THE WORKS: MGMWERX / Trent H. Edwards, Director, MGMWERX, mgmwerx.org
    EDWARDS: MGMWERX’s “just cause,” is the answer to “why we exist.” We understand the power of innovation and collaboration to change lives, communities and the world. And we’ve seen it done. We know how it works, and we know it works here. Our “2.0” version is simply the next step in our evolution. It helps to complement the Chamber and its goals to grow the tech and innovation ecosystem. We have continued to enhance our partnerships with Air University (AU), the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) in Ohio, DefenseWERX and the community.

    We now have more experience and more clarity of vision on how our mission affects the Air Force, Space Force and the River Region. Our model is now even more laser-focused on the transfer of knowledge, concepts, ideas and technology. And we are homed in on our mission to align with the education and research initiatives of AU and to augment its efforts in attainment of its goals in those areas. 2.0 is really a change of mindset, in that we are actively looking at all area resources and assets and the many ways to connect them. We have access to academic, active military and guard here in Montgomery; that is unique. We are also working hard to get the word out about what we do because it is pivotal for the next chapter of economic development here.

    Our work with the 187th and with Space Force provide us incredible opportunities to partner with airmen and guardians who serve as the operational arm of our defense. We serve as a kind of learning lab for AU and AFRL, the academic arm, in that we take the concepts from this operational side to the academic side, in keeping with our knowledge and idea transfer mission.

    One example is a recent atmospheric water generation project that we facilitated for the 187th. Instead of hauling the water needed for missions all over the world, leaders at the 187th thought, “What if we could produce it onsite and save all that money?” They came to MGMWERX, and we identified six companies that do this and reached out to give them the opportunity to submit white papers on their methods. From that, five were selected to participate in an exercise. One of the companies now has demonstrated proof of concept, and now that technology could be transferred from the private sector to the military. MGMWERX is unique in its ability to facilitate this type of transfer and assist the military in operating more efficiently and effectively.

    Looking ahead, we’re very excited about the 908th’s transition to helicopters. They will provide pilot training, so that’s a very rich environment for innovation. We can bring together our area’s active duty, reserve and guard components, then bring in our local colleges’ and universities’ research departments and find ways to provide innovative training. What about augmented reality to assist with pilot training? How cool would it be for a local small business to be part of making that happen? This is where our partnership with MontgomeryTechLab comes in; it’s accelerating small businesses, and some of those companies may have opportunities, products and/or solutions for the Air Force and Space Force, and we can assist in those partnerships.

    We can create economic opportunities for small businesses. One example: We’ve put more focus on partnering with PEO BES, specifically, BESPIN. Its mobile app development center represents a great opportunity for small businesses who want to develop apps for the Air Force. As a nonprofit, we can maneuver in different ways, and we are not competing with small businesses but assisting them.

    Also, the Air Force is keenly aware that we are in a global competitive environment with Russia and China, so they are looking to accelerate change through innovation and collaboration. We are that innovation and collaboration hub that’s already aligned with AU and AFRL and that is outside base gates. So, if you have great ideas, come downtown and share them with us, enter our pitch competitions. You don’t have to go through the hurdles of getting on base. By making these opportunities more accessible, we make it more plausible that any small business can work with the Air Force and Space Force.

    We’ve also put our efforts behind education innovation, not just military education but in our public schools too. And that builds into the workforce development pipeline, ensuring we have the workforce the future will require.

    WHAT’S IN THE WORKS: BESPIN / Dr. Joe Besselman, Chief Disruption Officer, USAF, bespin.i12.dso.mil
    BESPIN is the mobile capability development arm of the Program Executive Officer for Business and Enterprise Systems (PEO BES). The BESPIN team has been handpicked to build and evolve at high velocity a Case File Helper Bot, a capability to help security forces evaluate case file histories. The capability will, over time, marry knowledge-based system technology to Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to provide assistance to Security Forces operators.

    The significant accomplishments can be categorized along these three axes:
    1. REMARKABLY GREAT MOBILE CAPABILITIES. One example is GearFit, a game-changing capability because it has laser-focused leadership attention on the long-suffering female pilots and operators in cockpits, which were historically the exclusive domain of men, and were designed for men, including uniforms, flight suits and breathing apparatus. GearFit allows women to communicate directly to the human designers and sustainers of our aircraft. To prevent any “blaming of the messenger,” any crew member may submit feedback and recommendations anonymously, and these recommendations are echoed up to senior acquisition leaders to ensure they’re fairly, earnestly evaluated and considered. This change is critically important to the Department of the Air Force (DAF) of the 21st century because it will likely not meet its high-quality aircrew numeric targets without women. Women today are entering universities with academically superior records relative to men, and they on average, possess a crucial physiological advantage for combat operations, namely, their hearts are typically a lot closer to their brains, which aids their ability to better tolerate G forces in operations.
    2. RAPID, SECURE, HIGHLY USABLE CAPABILITIES. While the delivery of novel capabilities has earned BESPIN considerable prestige, the real value of BESPIN is better measured by the organization and infrastructure capabilities that the team has put in place, such that they’re now poised to build dozens of capabilities over the years to come. BESPIN’s Design Studio is a game-changing entity that allows the Air Force to build easy-to-understand and logically consistent capabilities across all domains. On the development side, it will enable more rapid development of capabilities because the studio will drive greater reuse of components from existing capabilities.
    3. BIRTHING THE TRANSFORMATIONAL DIGITAL UNIVERSITY. The DAF is in the midst of transforming its systems and workforce to be fully digital. This is easier said than done, because most of the Air Force’s capabilities are many decades old. An important component of this change is nudging the Air Force’s military, civilians and contractors into the 21st software century. BESPIN conceived and built the virtual Digital University for DAF’s men and women to grow their digital skills incrementally and has partnered with commercial on-line education sites such as Udemy to provide our airmen with high quality digital education. Today, thousands of Airmen across the world are taking on-line classes to learn a variety of skills. BESPIN is now partnering with other parts of the DAF that have historically performed traditional classroom training, with the goal to expand the educational offerings that are available virtually.

    Stargell brings a great set of experiences that make him the perfect leader for BESPIN. Not only was he at PEO BES years ago as a captain, but he was also the program manager for several of its important capabilities, with the DAF’s flightline maintenance system the most notable example. Finally, Stargell has been both a Training Squadron Commander and an instructor at the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College, the Air Force’s premier school for officers at the rank of major. Collectively, these experiences enabled him to provide immediate impact on the BESPIN team, where he is not only seeking to continue to evolve the mobile capability foundation, but he is also working with the rest of PEO BES to share their lessons learned and service offerings.

    BESPIN’s presence is important to our community because its development efforts are some of the most technically sophisticated products in the area, right up there with the robotic automation underpinning the Hyundai factory across town. These developers are also some of the best paid people in Montgomery, and several of them are products of Montgomery’s public and private schools. Also, on the Cloud infrastructure side of these capabilities, we have several Montgomery graduates supporting the Department of the Air Force team. These developers and engineers, some from local universities and others from elite universities like Georgia Tech, are shining examples for what Montgomery’s graduates can achieve, realizing high salaries right out of college.

    The Software/IT industry is hundreds of times larger and more lucrative than either the sports, music or movie industries. That is in both dollars and numerical employment. The probability of the average Montgomery citizen to make a lot of money in the software/IT industry is far greater than those other glamorous industries. Unfortunately, our newspapers and local media tend to dwell on the very rare occurrence of someone making a living in those other industries despite THOUSANDS of local residents enjoying substantial incomes, financial security for their families and nice homes from working with software/IT.

    The software/IT industry also does not require sophisticated math and science prowess to be successful. Moderate skill is all that is necessary. Skills in these disciplines come from moderate practice, just like prowess on a piano.

    These facts are particularly important to the demographics of our River Region, because, on average nationally, minorities and women have historically made choices avoiding software/IT professions and the amazing financial security they typically provide. However, BESPIN, like PEO BES, has minorities and women participating at rates much higher than the typical tech organization. This is not a surprise, given the local schools and universities drawing from the River Region’s unique demographics.
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