136th AW kicks off inaugural Spark Tank competition

  • Published
  • By SrA Bryan Swink
  • 136th Airlift Wing

Status quo is not the way of the Air Force any longer.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson kicked off the Air Force’s Spark Tank competition in September 2017 with a goal to “unleash the innovative capacity of our Airmen.” Through the Spark Tank program, Airmen compete and pitch their ideas much like an entrepreneur would make a pitch to a venture capital firm.

Four ideas were submitted and three were presented to a panel of 136th Airlift Wing innovation team members to compete in the 2019 Spark Tank competition during the wing’s October drill.

Capt. Jeremy McCray, 136th Medical Group Medical Service Corps officer, presented the winning idea. He introduced a service allowing medical group members to send and receive secure, digital faxes for their patients from outside medical providers.

“We are currently working with an archaic paper fax machine which can be extremely unreliable,” said McCray. “Implementing this product at the (Medical Group) would allow us to be much more productive while still ensuring proper security for our member’s personal information. Instead of a fax being received that goes unnoticed at the machine, we would get notified via email of an incoming fax at which point we could log into a secure site and retrieve the document.”

“Our unit is made up of bold and creative intrapreneurs, disruptive thinkers within our wing, who are looking for an opportunity to solve problems and contribute at the grass root level,” said Capt. Jennifer Marrs, 136th AW’s innovation chief. “Spark Tank is an opportunity to allow our Airmen to present their ideas, in a formal way, to the Innovation Team. Winning teams become champions of their idea and provided with resources to help them along the way. We have the talent and potential within our wing to impact change, not only within Texas, but also across the entire Air Force.”

Other ideas presented to the panel included the use of Varidesk, which allows Airmen to adjust their desk height to stand or sit while working; and a system which would allow two Air Force training programs to effectively communicate with each other to maintain proper training records.

The three finalists received monetary awards donated by the Enlisted Advisory Council and the Top 3, both enlisted organizations within the wing.

The Air Force has recognized that venture-backed startups are innovating at 10 times the speed of other organizations, and, by employing this model, we hope to encourage intrapreneurship, retain innovators, and speed adoption of emerging technologies, especially those developed by Airmen, to bring game changing impact to our Force, according to the AFWERX website. AFWERX is a product of the U.S. Air Force designed to solve some of the toughest challenges the Air Force faces through innovation and collaboration amongst the nation’s top subject matter experts.

"We challenge all Airmen to share their best ideas that build upon senior leader priorities to restore readiness, increase the lethality of the force and drive innovation to secure our future,” said Wilson.