"We must transition the newest capabilities and technology rapidly to the Fleet, the Force, and the larger commercial world," says Susan L. Bales, ONR's Commercial Technology Transition Officer. "We're in the business of delivering Naval capability and driving down cost, and we want to partner with venture capitalists to get this done."
On 19 to 21 January 2003, Bales hosted a group of leading venture capitalists off the Southern California coast. There they observed aircraft carrier and fleet command operations during Exercise Transparent Hunter, and visited the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and the Third Fleet's flagship USS Coronado to see Naval technology first-hand.
This was the first in a series of such events, called VCs@Sea. Bales' charter includes finding new and innovative business models that might result in faster ways to move new technologies to Sailors and Marines. She considers "venture initiatives"—spin-outs to promote commercial uses for Naval intellectual property and spin-ins to bring commercial technology to the Navy and Marine Corps—particularly important.
"We're the Navy and Marine Corps' ‘Deal Team'," she remarks. The goal of the VCs@Sea initiative is to expose venture capitalists to what the Navy and Marine Corps need, and to the opportunities for investment that Navy intellectual property offers.
A highlight of the VCs@Sea days was the flight to and from the aircraft carrier. The entire group was flown between Naval Air Station North Island and USS Nimitz aboard a Navy C-2 Greyhound transport plane. They experienced both a "trap"—landing on the carrier—and a "cat"—a catapult launch from the carrier. Later, aboard USS Coronado, the venture capitalists observed a fleet command center in operation. During their visit with the fleet, they discussed intellectual property issues with Captain David Schubert, the Naval Research Laboratory's commanding officer.
The Navy intellectual property that may have commercial potential? How about a 3-D vision system? Or a high-performance electron source? Or, perhaps a fiber optic dosimeter for use in radiation therapy? All these were briefed to the VCs attending.
"We have created this forum so we may brainstorm together and learn to speak a common language. We have tremendous opportunities to work together. As partners, we can make a lasting impact on both our nation's security and commercial markets," says Bales. "We believe this initial VCs@Sea experience will begin to build strong and long-lasting relationships. Together we do make a difference."