The Hitchhiker's Guide to Dayton Tech & Startups

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Dayton Tech & Startups

Guest Post: Marathon training & innovation have a lot in common

By Ryan Helbach, Chief Intrapreneur, AFRL

A few weekends ago I completed my second full marathon, the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon. Since I had plenty of time to think during the race and training, I wanted to talk about some parallels between the marathon and my work as the Chief Intrapreneur for the Air Force Research Laboratory. With a marathon people only see or hear snippets of the full effort that goes into the actual day of the race. As folks that have done any type of endurance activity can attest, it is not just about the actual race but there is 5-6 months of training that leads up to that the actual event. People don’t see the ups and downs, the pain, struggles, and doubts, or even solitary beautiful sunrises. The race itself is actually nothing (yes 26.2 miles is nothing, just ask an ultra-marathoner…) more than one more moment in that long sweep to bring an idea to reality.

It is very exciting and easy to come up with new ideas, and I am approached regularly with great ideas about new projects or ways to make the Air Force or AFRL a better place. But what people often fail to realize is that the process of generating the idea is only 5% of the effort and that it is the fun part of the equation! It is fun to dream and imagine what could be but it is a long tough process to bring an idea to reality, to get to the finish line. It is the day in and day out, the sacrifices that have to be made in the trade-offs with other opportunities and ideas that have to be skipped or postponed.

One of those ideas that we have been working on for over 2 years is AFRL’s Entrepreneurial Opportunities Program (EOP). The EOP supports AFRL’s technology transfer mission by providing entrepreneurialism to our scientists and engineers as a viable mechanism for maturing promising AFRL technologies into commercial products that benefit both national security and economic prosperity. As with any new idea there are lots of grueling moments fighting to keep the vision alive, there is doubt and low points where you think that the idea is going to die (or you secretly want it to die so you can move on to the next big idea). But it is the little victories and the constant belief that it is an idea worth pursuing that really brings an idea to fruition.  The program has formally been in place for a little over a year and we are starting to see some successes with the program.

EOP is just one option that we are pursuing to disrupt the paradigm.  We are working with entrepreneurs and college students to create companies founded around AFRL intellectual property, the AFRL Maker Hub will be turning 1 this fall, we are working with commercial technology accelerators, we are embedding our folks at startups and innovative companies, we are championing hackathons and open innovation challenges and we are creating new environments to expand who we work with and how we work.

The beauty of a marathon is there is a discrete finish line. With some many things we work on in AFRL there is no true finish line, as we are constantly learning, experimenting and improving. So we will keep introducing new ideas and we will continue to improve AFRL and the AF because if you are not pushing the boundaries you will be left behind. 

This post originally appeared on Ryan's LinkedIn. Ryan leads the intrapreneur movement within AFRL and created SHIFT AFRL within the AFRL organization, creating a more vibrant, energetic workplace; improving culture of ingenuity and innovation within AFRL; & forging a more interconnected 21st century workplace