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NEWS | Dec. 12, 2023

Potomac Tech Bridge looks to deliver technology from industry to the frontlines

By Taft Coghill Jr., NSWCDD Corporate Communications

A solution is not always easily accessible when a member of the U.S. Armed Forces is engaged in battle and indicates an immediate need.

NavalX – a division within the Office of Naval Research – recognized this pressing concern and established 16 tech bridges across the U.S. with two others in the United Kingdom and Japan that are designed to connect solutions across Navy commands, government agencies, industry and academia.

Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) played an integral role in creating the Potomac Tech Bridge, which debuted Dec. 12 at the Makerspace at the University of Mary Washington (UMW) Dahlgren Campus.

NSWCDD officials, industry partners and academic allies gathered to celebrate the kickoff of the tech bridge, which provides yet another vehicle for further collaboration and innovation in the Dahlgren region.

“We view today as a start,” said NSWCDD Technical Director Dale Sisson Jr., P.E., SES. “I look forward to coming back next year and recapping all the great things we’ve done in a short amount of time.”

NSWCDD Potomac Tech Bridge Director Michael Clark opened the kickoff by explaining the definition and the goal of a tech bridge. The word “bridge” is the key component. Clark said the aim is to become a conduit for traditional and nontraditional vendors and partners to conduct business with the Navy and Department of Defense and ultimately provide solutions for the warfighter.

 “When a warfighter raises his or her hand and says, ‘We’re really struggling with this,’ the first thing we do is look around the current defense industrial base and say, ‘Who has a solution?’” Clark said. “In many cases it’s hard to access certain solutions. So the tech bridge is there to close that gap.”

The Makerspace at UMW will serve as the physical location for the Potomac Tech Bridge.

NSWCDD supplied equipment to assist in establishing Makerspace operations. STEM programs and K-12 outreach efforts will also take place in the room. It will also be available for local innovators to explore.

Dr. Michael Hubbard, executive director of UMW Dahlgren, provided a tour of the Makerspace at the kickoff and stated that the goal is to “nest all of the capabilities we possibly can to enhance what we bring to the students and community.”

“UMW did a great job designing this space,” Clark said. “We want to continue working with our partners in developing a community of innovators and entrepreneurs across the region so that the Navy looks to us when it has challenging problems. We will have the people on standby, ready to solve those problems.  This space at UMW will become the center of that action.”

The Potomac Tech Bridge quickly made an impact with its first event – the Adaptable Interface Innovation Challenge at UMW Dahlgren Nov. 1-3. The event served as a preview for what the installation hopes to accomplish with the tech bridge.

Out of 30 challenge participants, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) Federal took the first-place prize of $250,000 and also departed with a pathway to supply the tool it created to the warfighter.

“The expectation is that we’re going to have a contract vehicle to deliver the solution that ASRC Federal developed to the fleet,” Clark said. “That’s huge for us because transitioning brand new ideas and solutions from industry to the warfighter is difficult.  The process of hosting a prize challenge, finding a potential solution from that challenge, and then getting a variation of that solution to the fleet is a grand slam for the tech bridge.”

Curry Roberts, president of the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance at UMW, and Uma Marques, director of Virginia Smart Community Testbed at the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation, gave presentations at the kickoff discussing the importance of the Potomac Tech Bridge.

At the end of the day’s festivities, Sisson and UMW President Dr. Troy Paino signed a Partnership Intermediary Agreement (PIA). Paino said the PIA is the latest step in a growing relationship with NSWCDD that is aligned with the university’s strategic plan to become more directly invested in the growth of the region. Paino said UMW “has only scratched the surface” of what it can accomplish jointly with NSWCDD.

“Our partnership with Mary Washington has grown by leaps and bounds,” Sisson added. “We thank you for that, Dr. Paino, because you’ve really driven that strategy and encouraged this partnership with us.”

NSWCDD also entered into a Memorandum of Agreement with the Fredericksburg Military Affairs Council (FMAC). FMAC Chairman Dr. John Burrow was on hand to sign that agreement alongside Sisson.