AFWERX crowns 2021 Spark Tank winner

  • Published
  • By Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

Master Sgt. Justin Bauer from the 355th Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona was awarded the prestigious AFWERX Spark Tank trophy after his innovative method for C-130 Hercules wheel repair was selected as the Spark Tank 2021 winner Feb. 26.

The Spark Tank event allows Airmen to offer improvements and solutions to the problems they face in everyday operations. These incredible Airmen find, and oftentimes, create inventions that alleviate issues they experience while working across myriad of Air Force specialty codes and mission sets.

William Gautier, Spark Tank capability lead, emphasized that with the Spark Tank event, “We celebrate risk-takers and idea-makers from across the department; Airmen and Guardian intrapreneurs who refuse to accept the status quo and who have created solutions to make it easier for us to bring the very best to the fight."

This year, Airmen created everything from ear plugs that allow maintainers to communicate effectively in loud environments on the flightline while preserving their hearing, to augmented reality headsets that enhance the mission-debrief process for Air Force aviators. When discussing Spark Tank participation across the Department of the Air Force, Brou mentioned that “the numbers this year were impressive. We saw that over 19,000 Airmen and Guardians viewed the over 300 ideas on the Airman Powered by Innovation platform. They provided almost 1,000 feedback comments on the ideas and, most importantly, cast more than 14,000 votes for their favorite idea, giving it the best chance at competing for the stage today.” This year’s Spark Tank event took place during the Virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium provided by the Air Force Association.

The AFWERX Spark Tank event consisted of five teams of Airmen presenting their ideas to a panel of nine celebrity judges. The panel of judges was made up of civilian professionals and investors with experience in government service and leading technology industries. Additionally, the secretary of the Air Force, the Air Force chief of staff, the U.S. Space Force chief of space operations, the chief master sergeant of the Air Force and the chief master sergeant of the Space Force also sat on the judge’s panel.

Although all teams provided outstanding improvements to critical operational processes, Bauer was crowned Spark Tank’s 2021 winner. In addition to the title of Spark Tank 2021 winner, Bauer is awarded one year’s possession of the Spark Tank trophy. All teams shared the incredible opportunity to present their innovative ideas to Air Force senior leadership. All finalists will receive a follow-up from leadership to propel their ideas into reality and begin impacting the Air Force on a large scale.

AFWERX would like to extend a gracious thank you to three celebrity judges, Meagan Metzger, chief executive officer, Dcode; Matt Booty, head of Xbox Game Studios and Brittany Davis, general partner, Backstage Capital. Their focused questioning on funding and the long-term impact of ideas in the Air Force helped ensure that all ideas were evaluated to the highest degree. Their participation proved invaluable in the production of the Spark Tank event.

In 2020, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. stated that his vision for the force is to “Accelerate Change or Lose.” The AFWERX Spark Tank event allows Airmen to personally embody that vision. Events such as Spark Tank provide Airmen with the opportunity to voice their solutions to key enablers and potentially improve the way the mission is accomplished in the Air Force.
All Spark Tank semi-finalists and finalists have received “go-do’s” by senior leadership to make their ideas a reality in the Air Force and Space Force. This means that once the stage lights dim, and the Spark Tank competition is over, the innovators get hard at work continuing to refine and test their ideas with our Spark Tank team connecting them to the people necessary to support validation, refinement, and further investment decisions and identifying resources, like the right color of money and “investor” available to assist. The best of these ideas, when ready, will be piloted in an appropriate Air and or Space Force setting and then scaled up to be leveraged across military bases globally. This process is designed to help the entire Department of the Air Force, through innovation, experimentation, and a collaborative approach with our service and industry teammates, be more flexible and ready for the future high-end fight.