“Sherpas” lead the way for Space and Missile Systems Center “AF Space Pitch Day”

  • Published
  • By Tamry McCauley, SMC Public Affairs

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE – EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Air Force Space Command Space and Missiles Systems Center (SMC) continues on the path of Enterprise, Partnerships, Innovation, Culture (E.P.I.C.) and Speed by creating a more streamlined process that enables the Air Force to move quickly in procuring cutting-edge technology. 

Since the announcement of Air Force Space Pitch Day for November 5-6, 2019, where the Air Force aims to connect with small businesses and start-ups, the Air Force is ensuring that potential businesses have all the right tools for success. 

“This is where Capt. Craig Helsper and Lt. Shanna Chen come into play. These warfighters are called Sherpas,” said Lt. Col. Rock McMillan, Lead Project Manager, SMC Portfolio Architect Corps. “As the name “Sherpa” suggests, these guides provide support for people venturing up Mt. Everest; or in this case, serve as the liaisons between the Air Force and small businesses.  The Air Force created a partnership system where warfighters help to guide companies through the acquisition process leading up to the day they pitch.”  

The Air Force Space Pitch Day’s purpose is to enable the development of small businesses and startups, with potential innovative technologies that will support the Air Force, to field the Air Force’s Space needs in fast, relevant and affordable solutions.        

“Space Pitch Day is reaching out for innovate solutions. Each small business and startup will be assigned a Sherpa like myself,” said Capt. Craig Helsper, Lead Sherpa, SMC Atlas Corps. “The Air Force is bringing new companies into the fold with new ideas and allowing them to move quickly within the federal acquisition regulations to give small business and startups an opportunity to fast track and partner with SMC.” 

Capt. Helsper and Lt. Chen went through Sherpa training allowing them to understand their roles and responsibilities while interacting with non-traditional small businesses and start-ups. These duties include making introductions to key stakeholders and working with these businesses through the Space Pitch Day Prep program. Currently, AF Sherpas and their partnered business are going through the customer discovery phase. Being that Sherpas are helping companies for a “Shark Tank-like” opportunity is something that both Capt. Helsper and Lt. Chen have prepared for, for weeks.                 

“Customer Discovery is the most important phase of Space Pitch Day. Ensuring the technology that is funded provides actual value to the Air Force warfighters,” said Helsper.  “Sherpa’s serve as the “defenders” of the AF Pitch Day process. This ensures a potential business has access to stakeholder interviews and ensuring that companies are not just doing sales pitches.”    

AF Space Pitch Day focuses on rapidly awarding Phase II Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contracts to companies based on a simpler streamlined evaluation of white papers and in-person presentations. Helsper and Chen will use their Sherpa training to help shepherd small business customers through the AF Space Pitch Day in San Francisco, California.

“It is important to see the impact the Air Force has on leveraging capability from non-traditional and start-up companies to better equip the warfighter,” said Lt. Shanna Chen, SMC Portfolio Architect Corps. “SMC is working smarter strategies, seeking to partner with innovative small businesses, technology investments and cradle to grave partnerships. We are moving at E.P.I.C. Speed and will continue to work with companies that better equip the Air Force.”


For more information and to register for the upcoming USAF Space Pitch Day event, please visit https://www.losangeles.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1945545/us-air-force-space-pitch-day/. Click on the register here link provided.

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