Sparks fly at Spark Tank

  • Published
  • By Venessa Armenta
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Members of Tyndall's Base of the Future Innovation Cell and the 325th Comptroller Squadron recently hosted the 3rd annual Spark Tank Competition on March 28, 2024. The event allowed service members across the installation the opportunity to pitch innovative solutions and ideas on behalf of their squadrons.

Though not a new program for the Department of Defense, the competition was started at Tyndall in 2022 by Capt. Rakesh Mahbubani, 325th CPTS budget officer, alongside the then-squadron commander, Lt. Col. Andrew Fingall.

"We wanted to create something at Tyndall that mirrored what many higher headquarters or [major commands] do," explained Mahbubani. "Spark Tank is a means to ensure that innovation funds are actually spent on innovation initiatives and not on normal non-funded Wing requirements."

Every year, Tyndall is allotted $400,000 from Air Combat Command to spend toward innovation efforts. $300,000 of these funds are utilized for the Spark Tank ideas with the most promise. The remaining $100,000 was previously distributed evenly across the groups, however, this year, the funds will go towards the Squadron Innovative Showdown, in which the groups will submit unfunded requirements that deal with innovation, with leadership voting on how to divide those remaining funds.

A significant amount of planning goes into the event, especially considering the large prize at stake. Tyndall's Base of the Future Innovation Cell team helped prepare participants beforehand by breaking down the specific criteria each pitch must meet to be considered and connecting them with support staff throughout the installation to ensure their ideas could be implemented if awarded.

"They worked with departments like [information technology] to make sure the existing network could support these ideas or contracting to check that specific items are authorized for purchase," said Mahbubani.

During the event, innovation was the focal point in the auditorium of the Airey Noncommissioned Officer Academy as 11 solutions and ideas were presented to a pre-selected panel of judges. Among these contestants was Airman First Class Victor Ojasanmi from the 325th Logistics Readiness Squadron material management flight requesting funds for a AirbrakePro Trainer.

"Within LRS, we need to be efficient with how we move personnel and goods from one installation to another," said Ojasanmi. "This piece of equipment will help members across our squadron by teaching them how to work on vehicles more efficiently by providing hands-on experience before encountering an actual problem."

Pitches are reviewed using five different judging criteria, but Mahbubani says that the most important factors are the implementation's feasibility and the solution's ingenuity. After the panel has heard all the pitches, they review the scores and draft their selections to be reviewed by the group commanders, after which, the final vote comes from the 325th Fighter Wing commander, Col. George Watkins.