Program Title: NSIN PROPEL – Acceleration Portfolio

Program Mission

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is engaging in several innovation initiatives, including various programs through the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD R&E) such as the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), to spur conversation and collaboration between the military and non-traditional civilian partners.

NSIN is a DoD program office reporting to the USD R&E and composed of three primary program portfolios: National Service, which includes activities and programs designed to offer new DoD service pathways for non-traditional problem solvers; Collaboration, which seeks to build enduring communities of national security problem solvers with a focus on non-traditional partnerships; and Acceleration, which primarily seeks to enrich the extant military-industrial base by facilitating rapid prototyping by national-security related start-up companies and facilitating entrepreneurs developing technologies with dual-use applications in the both the commercial and defense sectors.

RFI Goals and Program Overview

NSIN is conducting this RFI as market research to determine the capability of private industry to address the prospective requirements described in the following sections as it relates to the successful deployment of the Propel program during the February 2021 – October 2021 (expected ~ 8 months but open to proposals) period in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Propel is a program within NSIN’s Acceleration Portfolio that partners with commercial startup accelerators to provide solutions to the Department of Defense by rapidly helping develop dual-use ventures. A dual-use venture is one that targets both government and commercial (enterprise and/or consumer) customers with a core focus being on government customers in defense and national security.

This approach attracts and selects high-potential ventures and uses a proven strategy to accelerate the availability of emerging technology to the Department of Defense. The result is cohorts of non-traditional companies with validated TRL 4-6+ dual-use technology seeking DoD contracts, non-dilutive funding and other partnership instruments for further demonstration, development, experimentation, or prototyping.

By partnering with leading startup accelerators Propel creates new opportunities for both the DoD and early-stage ventures. Leveraging the proven developmental programs of our partners and NSIN’s nation-wide network, Propel expands DoD’s access to the venture community and accelerates the progress of start-ups in transforming their technology into actionable capabilities that address emerging and critical problems with a potentially transformational impact in national security.

Ventures that apply to Propel-associated accelerators go through a rigorous selection process to form a cohort focused around one or more DoD-identified tech verticals. Through a multi-month program, the ventures receive coaching and mentorship, a dual-use focused curriculum, and support in discovering their DoD customer. The result is a small business that is much closer to achieving product / mission fit and more prepared to succeed as a dual-use company.

Program Track Record

Past Propel accelerator programs have been focused on areas of emerging technology such as unmanned systems, high performance hardware and software, computer vision, augmented reality / virtual reality, and data-enabled recruiting, training, and education. Crucially, these technologies have both commercial and defense applications, because we believe that the sustainable growth of our partners depends on having broad markets.

Over the last two years, Propel has partnered with three industry-leading accelerators to run four programs, helping 36 promising early-stage ventures. These companies have gone on to win 57 DoD contracts and prize awards, worth more than ~$33.7M, and have raised more than ~$40M in private capital.

Technology Areas of Focus

Propel is intended to benefit a broad set of DoD Customers with clear and published strategic technology priorities. As applicable to this RFI, the focus of this accelerator cohort will be on startups delivering on technology application areas that 1) process and exploit data in near real time, 2) analyze massive collections over time and 3) employ continuous learning to deliver asymmetric decision speed. Related technology verticals of interest include AI/ML, quantum, cyber, ad tech, and urban tech.

Example use cases include:

  • Multi-source information fusion (from spatial/temporal to contextual fusion)
  • AI/ML for object detection, scene captioning, and optimization
  • Quantum computing, communications, timing, sensing
  • Cyber for automated mapping of networks and sensors, and vulnerability assessment
  • Ad tech for pattern discovery and countering disinformation
  • Urban tech for micro mobility, air mobility, logistics, smart cities and airports
  • Adversarial Machine Learning to detect data poisoning and deception detection
  • Conversational analytics to understand analyst intent

NSIN’s Propel will be particularly interested in startups that bring innovative solutions in multi-sensor data fusion to provide accurate, robust, and continuous situational awareness of the environment. Although decision-level fusion has been state-of-the-art, the DoD is currently focused on developing methods for data fusion at the feature-level and signal-level (in particular, for edge applications). The mix of sensing phenomenologies being fused could vary temporally as well as spatially. The objects of interest are geography, static objects, and dynamic/moving objects. Relevant sensing phenomenologies include: Radio Frequency (Range profile, SAR, GMTI, etc.), Electro-Optical, Infrared, LADAR/LIDA, HIS, Publicly Accessible and Commercially Accessible Information (PAI/CAI). Example data fusion scenarios include: a) Multiple sensors, single platform, b) Single sensor-type, multiple platforms, c) Multiple sensors, multiple platforms

Furthermore, solutions supporting the following feature-level areas are of interest:

  • Cueing one sensor from another sensor to focus on an area of interest (sensor resource management and mode scheduling)
  • Multi-sensor platform resource management – flight path plans, multi-sensor and PNT, communications, and edge computing
  • Multi-platform resource management – multi-platform and multi-domain (air/space/cyber) coordination, platform teaming and optimization, attrition risk, and distributed compute (edge and cloud)
  • Optimizing the location of sensors and the sensor mix to maximize information extraction (e.g., target identification)
  • Detecting data and identifying objects across sensors and phenomenologies
  • Registering data across sensors and phenomenologies
  • Adaptively fusing data over time as the mix of sensors changes.
  • Keeping custody of objects of interest over short (tracking) and/or long (Pattern of Life) periods of time

Commercially, NSIN believes that the abovementioned technologies will have applications in multiple applications, such as ag-tech and autonomous transportation and navigation. For example, crop analysis is one possible application where multi-sensor data would be used to determine the types and health of crops. Another application would be in self-driving vehicles to more robustly identify obstructions to help choose courses of action. It’s conceivable that the robustness that comes with multi-sensor systems could be used to compensate for graffiti or other degradations in road signs. Another possibility might be a robust non-GPS navigation system for vehicles using information about the surroundings to determine location.

Finally, these technologies will have a substantial impact on Urban tech, a very broad area covering a variety of technologies that solve challenges associated with urban environments. Included in these challenges are operations to maintain security and public safety, cyber security, maintenance of command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) and utility (electric power, water, gas) infrastructure, facilities construction & maintenance, medical clinic operations, procurement, accounting, logistics, human resources, food services, community services, and media relations. Examples of specific challenges facing the development of smart airports can serve to ground intuitions for the broader tech vertical. Attractive solutions would include independently tracking aircraft, support equipment, and personnel. Solutions should be capable of operating in all weather conditions and in a GPS-denied environment. Other areas of interest include:

  • Base Security Systems
  • Inventory Management Systems
  • Emergency Management tools & systems
  • Autonomous pickup and delivery of small parts and supplies
  • Drone detection capabilities over large areas
  • Transportation solutions: around base & commuting to work
  • Mapping dimensions and activities in urban environments (including subterranean)

Prospective Requirements

NSIN is generally interested in learning from prospect private industry acceleration partners the potential architecture, methodology and execution plan for a 2021 iteration of a Propel accelerator iteration (the “accelerator”), and if this iteration would leverage existing resources and / or would need new resources (e.g. newly developed curriculum).

NSIN is will view favorably RFI responses that can demonstrate, among other criteria:

  • How the prospect acceleration partner plans to market the opportunity to existing advanced technology start-ups
  • How start-ups and / or entrepreneurial teams will be selected for participation in the accelerator
  • How it will ensure that it can help address specific DoD technology needs
  • How it will accelerate a TRL4 to TRL6+ company to ease the path for DoD partnership, non-dilutive funding, contracting actions (curriculum, etc.)
  • What existing resources can be leveraged and/or new resources created
  • How it will ensure that participant companies are given the best chance at raising private capital at the appropriate stage from trusted investment sources
  • How to scale up the process

Once Propel Accelerator Partners are selected, NSIN will facilitate engagement with DoD customers. Multiple check-ins will occur, but it will be expected that the Acceleration Partner will be fairly autonomous in how they deliver the Propel iteration at their individual site, so long as it is consistent with their submitted (future) proposal.

NSIN will measure program success on the following key indicators:

  • Number of successful post-program contracting and subcontracting actions with DoD and DoD performing contractors, as well as $ amounts of those contracts
  • Total dollars raised in program and post-program investment from private capital sources
  • Evidence that the accelerator will recruit and enable non-traditional entities (e.g. early stage ventures) and / or new entrants (companies without previous DoD experience) to start working with DoD
  • Evidence that the Acceleration Partner can accomplish the desired acceleration of companies over the course of the proposed period
  • Evidence of the ability of acceleration process flow, framework, etc. scalability across number of companies, periods and technology verticals.

In addition, respondents are encouraged to provide any additional information that may be helpful in assisting NSIN in its market research.

Submission Instructions

Responses to this Request for Information should be submitted via email to Francisco Molinero, at by 5 p.m. submitter’s local time on November 30, 2020. Any questions submitted could become part of a general anonymized FAQ sheet that may be distributed to respondents before the submission deadline.

Anticipated Award Information

Type of Award: Standard FAR and DFAR-compliant (where applicable) Firm, Fixed Price (FFP) subcontract between NSIN’s Prime Contractor (Eccalon, LLC) and the Acceleration Partner

Estimated Number of Awards: 1

One award to qualifying private or public entities, Universities, Affiliated Foundations or other institutions

Anticipated Funding Amount: up to $1,000,000

Individual award sizes (total costs):

FY21: 1 award, up to $1,000,000 Possible Option Year 1 (FY22): 1 award, up to $1,000,000 Possible Option Year 2 (FY23): 1 award, up to $1,000,000

Estimated program budget, number of awards and average award size/duration are subject to the availability of funds.

Statement of Limitations

This is a Request for Information (RFI) issued by Eccalon, LLC, a prime Department of Defense contractor in support of the National Security Innovation Network. NSIN is conducting this RFI as market research to determine the capability of industry to address the prospective requirements described below.

This is not a Request for Proposal (RFP) or Quote (RFQ) and no submissions will be accepted as official offers for a contract. NSIN will not reimburse respondents for any expenses associated with this RFI.

  • 3.1. – NSIN represents that this RFI, submissions from respondents to this RFI, and any relationship between FWS and respondents arising from or connected or related to this RFI, are subject to the specific limitations and representations expressed below, as well as the terms contained elsewhere in this RFI. By responding to this RFI, respondents are deemed to accept and agree to this Statement of Limitations. Respondents to this RFI acknowledge and accept NSIN’s rights as set forth in the RFI, including this Statement of Limitations.

  • 3.2. – NSIN reserves the right, in its sole discretion, without liability, to utilize any or all of the RFI responses in its planning efforts. NSIN reserves the right to retain and utilize all the materials, information, ideas, and suggestions submitted in response to this RFI.

  • 3.3. – This RFI shall not be construed in any manner to implement any of the actions contemplated herein, nor to serve as the basis for any claim whatsoever for reimbursement of costs for efforts expended in preparing a response to the RFI.

  • 3.4. – The submission of an RFI response is not required to participate in any potential future solicitation.

  • 3.5. – To the best of NSIN’s knowledge, the information provided herein is accurate.

  • 3.6. – This RFI is issued solely for information and planning purposes and does not constitute a solicitation. Responses to this notice are not an offer and cannot be accepted by NSIN or its prime contractor Eccalon, LLC to form a binding contract.