Empowering Innovation at the Operational Edge

Learn how AFWERX is driving collaborations through Spark, its grassroots innovation program that’s turning locally generated ideas and projects into real-world applications.

Capital Factory
3 min readApr 18, 2022


What you’ll find out

The imperative for innovation (02:40)

Two reasons to empower grassroots innovators (03:00)

How Spark’s three main branches drive innovation (05:08)

  • Connect branch (Spark Cells, MAJCOM, Colliders) (06:08)
  • Develop branch (Internships, Fellowships, etc.) (07:40)
  • Support branch (Spark Tank, Strike Team, Incubator, Tools) (11:05)

Spark products (13:45)

Engage through a plethora of tools (16:00)

Scope and breadth of the Spark network (17:10)

Why incentive structures matter (20:00)

Key quotes

“If they learn to hack the process, to understand and navigate our bureaucracy, to do design thinking, to do customer discovery, to really align stakeholders behind solving those problems, those skills will follow them in their career.” (03:20)

“There is a strategic imperative for innovation and that leads to AFWERX Spark.” (04:17)

“Defense Ventures Fellowship … takes airmen and guardians, actually across the DoD and federal government, to embed with investment firms and startups for six weeks during which time they’re learning some of the secret … things they can all bring back to their home units as skills they have acquired.” (08:40)

“These are Airmen and Guardian innovators who now getting that advocacy and support … We’re creating these innovation heroes. Those people who are removing barriers help us create a virtuous cycle of innovation where more people want to do it.” (11:40)

“Through all these programs I talked about, whether the fellowship, the internship, the design warfare program … there is so much expertise, so much talent and passion. This is a way we can help to focus and leverage all that expertise to help airmen and guardians to innovate.” (12:45)

“We’re trying to create an unstructured way for airmen and guardian innovators to engage with this veteran innovator network.” (13:08)

“How do you make this thing work? I would say a culture of people that have psychological safety to know ‘I can pursue this thing and I won’t be crushed if it fails.’ And knowing if they built something meaningful, it can and will scale.” (18:50)

“The incentive structure is the really important thing. How do you encourage innovation? You create pots of money, or resources, or time or advocacy.” (20:00)

Who you’ll hear from

Maj Steven Lauver, AFWERX, Spark Division Chief

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About Fed Supernova
Fed Supernova is a two-day annual conference highlighting defense innovation in Texas. This first-of-its-kind interactive experience draws national attention and connects leading entrepreneurs, investors, thought leaders, corporations, and decision makers from around the world.

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Capital Factory

The center of gravity for entrepreneurs in Texas. We meet the best startups in Texas and introduce them to potential investors, employees and customers.