Program Under Defense Innovation Unit Is Launching a New Consortium

Christel Deskins

An arm of the Defense Innovation Unit wants to streamline how it finds hidden problems buried in emerging crises, and is looking for a consortium management firm to administer the new effort. DIU’s National Security Innovation Network, focused on the human capital that turns new ideas into reality, is preparing […]

An arm of the Defense Innovation Unit wants to streamline how it finds hidden problems buried in emerging crises, and is looking for a consortium management firm to administer the new effort.

DIU’s National Security Innovation Network, focused on the human capital that turns new ideas into reality, is preparing to launch a new consortium: the Institute for Nascent Innovation, or I4NI.

The new outfit will aim to bring “together diverse communities of universities, small businesses, entrepreneurs and inventors that can collaborate on prototyping projects, functioning as a strategic responsive cell,” according to a request for consortium prototype proposals released Friday.

“NSIN works with a broad array of universities and non-traditionals and is looking to streamline our acquisition processes to better enable execution under a single, contractual umbrella,” NSIN Managing Director Morgan Plummer told Nextgov.

The consortium will attempt to stay on the cutting edge by focusing on emerging issues, then going further to try to anticipate the next set of problems.

“For example, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the challenges our nation faces in several novel technology spaces, including material sciences, deep learning, cyber security, high performance computing, etc., the technologies that are required to build those materials and the technologies and tools to secure the supply chain in the current operating environment,” the solicitation reads. “Moreover, even these are just the challenges we recognize today, there are new problems and challenges we are discovering in real-time but lack the industry configuration to solve these problems as the challenges arise.”

As with other parts of DIU, NSIN operates using other transaction authorities—a contracting method outside of the Federal Acquisition Regulation used for fast, iterative funding for research and development, with an added focus on attracting nontraditional vendors and experts. Due to the complex nature of OTA contracting, many government agencies opt to run their programs through consortium management firms, and NSIN is taking a similar route.

Friday’s solicitation outlines some of the goals for I4NI and seeks a consortium manager “that configures this network, establishes regional clusters, and connects STEM oriented innovators and new players across communities—e.g. academia, industry, laboratories, entrepreneurs—inventors that might not traditionally cross paths or be part of the defense supply chain.”

As the I4NI strategy comes together, the consortium manager will have the following set of tasks:

  • Identify entities to be included in the problem-solving network and bring these key entities on board.
  • Develop and create the industry configuration of the problem-solving network.
  • Create a process to bring key entities onboard both initially and during the life of the consortium other transaction agreement.
  • Act as an integrator and program manager to support the government and consortium members in solving DOD’s emergent threats problem sets.
  • Maintain and manage a robust membership able to meet emergent threats.
  • Create an environment in which the network will operate.
  • Develop a multiyear operating process for the network to create tools, techniques and methodologies for solving complex DOD sponsored problem sets. 

Once the I4NI consortium is established, the chosen manager will also be charged with acting as the conduit between the government and the members—including accepting requirements for prototype projects, disseminating that information among members and helping nontraditional partners through the complications of working with the DOD.

The initial management contract is expected to go for five years, with one additional five-year add-on option.

Proposals must include information on expected costs to run the consortium and proposed membership fees for participants. The solicitation notes NSIN officials are particularly interested in hearing about “any unique pricing arrangements.”

Bids are due by 5 p.m. October 9.

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