Natick Pitches Innovation in Forum For Ideas


NATICK, Mass. (Jan. 5, 2015) – The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, has come up with a new way to spark out-of-the-box thinking, risk-taking, and employee participation. The center implemented the “Bootstrap Initiative and Pitch Day.”

The Bootstrap Initiative encourages innovation and creativity while streamlining processes and minimizing bureaucracy. The program accepts ideas from government civilian NSRDEC employees, who are allowed to submit proposals for a new technology, research project, business process, or administrative process that supports NSRDEC’s mission, which includes researching and developing cutting-edge food, shelter, clothing and airdrop technologies and products.

Employee enthusiasm, participation and empowerment are at the heart of the initiative. Employees propose ideas and vote on which ideas receive funding.

NSRDEC’s Dr. Ken Desabrais, a research aerospace engineer, conceived the idea and led the Bootstrap Implementation Team.

“The Bootstrap Initiative was conceived of as a way to bring the crowdsourcing concept to NSRDEC, to find innovative and creative ways within our organization to solve a spectrum of problems, from technical challenges to improvements in our business and administrative processes and tools,” Desabrais said. “Our intent with the initiative was to encourage the sharing of ideas and help nurture a culture of collaboration amongst our colleagues to identify and find solutions to the problems we see in achieving our mission of helping the Soldier, while also empowering people to pursue and make decisions about those ideas.

“The Bootstrap Implementation Team did an exceptional job in pulling the initiative together in a very short time frame. We were able to implement and execute the initiative in about three months from start to finish, which is a testament to the dedication and commitment everyone put into the effort, including all the people [who] participated in submitting ideas and voting for proposals.”

Although Bootstrap is intended to encourage originality and ingenuity, there are still some submission restrictions. For instance, ideas must be able to be carried out for $50,000 or less. Funding cannot be used to fund a contractor or external contract.

NSRDEC’s Pitch Day provided a unique forum for both proposal creators and voters. During Pitch Day, proposers garnered employee voter support for their ideas by making posters, displaying prototypes, creating interactive displays and conducting show-and-tell sessions.

“This was a great effort to bring people together in a new and exciting way,” said Donna Bulger, associate director for NSRDEC Operations and Outreach. “Giving the workforce an opportunity to have a voice in what efforts move forward generated some great discussion, and I am sure [it] will spark some new ideas for the next cycle.”

Pitch Day showcased many project home runs, but not every project could be a winner. Funding was limited and the competition was steep, with 37 groundbreaking ideas being submitted.

In the end, there were 18 winning proposals, ranging from zero-waste cafeterias to a low-altitude, high-accuracy airdrop activation device.

“The workforce’s response to the Bootstrap program far exceeded my expectation,” said Dr. Charlene Mello, NSRDEC chief scientist. “It has brought together the business, administrative and technical communities to collaboratively execute our mission. I am eager to follow the progress of funded ideas and generation of new ideas for future Bootstrap submissions.”

Megan Hoey, an NSRDEC research chemical engineer, submitted a Bootstrap project entitled “Friend or Foe in Fibers,” which was one of the projects chosen by NSRDEC employee voters for funding.

“The Bootstrap Initiative has provided an avenue for me to start some work on developing fibers with specific optical additives in order to inform and prepare for a larger-scale 6.2 friend vs. foe identification effort that is on hold. If funding becomes available for that effort, Bootstrap will have enabled me to hit the ground running and effectively and efficiently transition into the full-scale Warfighter Improved Combat Identification Development 6.2 project.”

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