Following self-reported success and positive industry feedback from the first-ever Space Pitch Day, the Air Force is already planning to annually meet with selected small businesses to find more innovative capabilities in the space domain, officials said Nov. 6.

The Air Force awarded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts worth $750,000 each to 30 companies over the two-day event in San Francisco, for a cumulative $22.5 million. Service evaluators then selected 15 companies to submit proposals for an additional $750,000, or $2.25 million total, based on “which capabilities would provide the most benefit to the warfighters,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. John “JT” Thompson, commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, in the concluding speech Nov. 6.

The service ended the inaugural Space Pitch Day by asking eight companies to apply to increase their previously awarded SBIR phase two awards from $750,000 to $3 million, Thompson said during the concluding ceremony in San Francisco. The firms were Omitron, Arete Associates, Analytical Space, Lucid Circuit, Numerica, Roccor, Space Micro and Synaptech, he said.

“The pitches from this group were particularly outstanding,” Thompson said, per a video broadcast to AFSMC’s Facebook page.

The Air Force also asked seven companies to submit proposals that lift the total value of their SBIR phase two awards to $1.5 million, he added. Those companies included Chandah Space Tech, nouSystems, Aptima, Strategem Group, Virtualitics, Launcher and Orbital Micro Systems.

Thompson said the Space Pitch Day is one of several efforts the Air Force will work on to build the innovation needed to build advantage over U.S. adversaries.

“We have to partner with commercial industry better… we’re willing to try just about anything,” he said.

The service is refining a “three-fold approach” of using SBIR funds to work with new space companies through three phases, said Will Roper, the service’s assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics in a Nov. 6 media roundtable.

Phase One would consist of very small contracts, between $3 million and $50 million, to “get you in the door” and provide companies with mentorship opportunities to get to know the Air Force customer. Phase Two involves actually pitching the solution to the potential customer via pitch days, and receiving contracts that allow for prototype design and development.

“Then Phase Three, you’re productizing, you’re getting your product ready … to be used by us and hopefully that’s on a path to selling to the world,” Roper said. The intent from the get-go should be to present a product that has commercial appeal, not necessarily just military applications, he added.

An Air Force pathfinder project found that government dollars going to small space innovators were matched either 3-1 or 4-1 by private investors, Roper noted. “That is what Phase 3 is centered around,” he said. “We want to make it very clear that this pipeline is a launching pad … where the government is your partner.”

Roper confirmed in a Nov. 12 media event in Washington, D.C., that the Air Force does not know which companies will receive SBIR contracts at pitch days ahead of time. He noted that as the events have so far been invitation-only and require companies to submit proposals beforehand, service officials have some idea of which companies will be competitive, but the ultimate decision comes during the oral pitches at the conference.