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We've come a long way delivering innovative solutions. But our next chapter is still being written.
Our 22,600 engineers, scientists, software developers, technologists, and consultants live to solve problems that matter. We’re proud of the diversity throughout our organization, from our most junior ranks to our board of directors and leadership team.
It takes passion, research, exploration, and plenty of tinkering to transform a hunch into an original idea with business value. Smart companies create cultural processes that harness the power of their ideas to propel a sustainable pipeline of fresh, creative business ideas. The biggest challenge companies face is finding ways to discover and cultivate brilliant ideas from their people, irrespective of administrative levels or functional roles.
One of the ways Booz Allen has tackled this challenge is by creating the Combustion Chamber. It’s Booz Allen’s premier crowdsourced pitch event where consultants compete against scientists, and technologists rival engineers to secure mentoring and investment funding for their market-ready business or product solutions.
Semi-annually, the Combustion Chamber is hosted in a different city. The inaugural event began in Washington, DC, at a local startup accelerator and seed fund. The second installment journeyed across the country to the tech hub of Los Angeles followed six months later by Boston, the innovation capital of New England.
After the Boston event, however, analysis showed the Combustion Chamber’s true value extended further than sourcing great ideas and engaging regional staff beyond the Capital Beltway. We could focus our people and ideas on specific business challenges based in particular regions.
So, we held the fourth Combustion Chamber in Atlanta. With the backdrop of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and largest health community in America, we directed our scientists and Internet of Things technology experts to improve the safety of infectious disease labs and reduce rapid response events in hospitals.
“The Combustion Chamber is a Shark Tank-style competition where Booz Allen entrepreneurs seek executive-level mentorship and investment funding for original market-ready ideas and solutions. ”
For our most recent installment we traveled to Seattle, where energy, aerospace, and maritime industries drive the regional economy. With a focus on directed energy, unmanned autonomous systems, virtual reality, and digital solutions problems, our people unveiled transformative solutions over the course of one night.
A Night at Startup Hall
The Seattle Combustion Chamber took place at Startup Hall, a co-working space at the University of Washington’s campus. An open, collaborative space for students to develop their ideas, it was an ideal backdrop for Booz Allen’s brightest scientists, technologists, engineers, and consultants to descend on the Emerald City and pitch their solutions. Since its inception, the Combustion Chamber has featured an application process in which staff from across the firm submit their ideas.
The best are selected as finalists, and then our internal pitch coaches and mentors work with them to prepare for the Combustion Chamber. When we say good ideas come from everywhere, we mean it: A record 56 applications were submitted in advance of the Seattle Combustion Chamber.
Only 10 teams made the final and were flown in from all across the country—from San Diego to Chicago to DC—to compete at Startup Hall.
The Right Connections
Competitions need judges. And business ideas need leaders to sponsor them, implement them, and connect them to the people and problems where they can have the most impact. Combustion Chamber judges are executives from Booz Allen and our alliance partners, with the abilities to mentor and invest in good ideas.
With the focus on energy, aerospace, and maritime solutions for the Seattle Combustion Chamber, the judging panel included executives who lead technical businesses within markets that rely on advanced technology. The judges comprised a broad range of our business, from the client service officer of our Navy and Marine Corps business—which relies on maritime technology to keep our warfighters modernized and ahead of foreign threats—to the lead of our Ventures and Alliances program, which focuses on emerging-edge technologies.
What’s more, we invited Tom Keane, partner director program manager at Microsoft, to serve as a guest judge. Given the proximity to nearby Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, and the event’s focus on technology-driven solutions, Tom made the perfect addition to our panel of executive leaders.
“Trust and transparent relationships are extremely important,” Tom said minutes before the Combustion Chamber kicked off. “It’s a diverse world in which we’re living, and the only way we can serve the needs of evolving customers is with partners like Booz Allen.”
Under the Sea and Up in the Air
“I mapped the bottom of the ocean, and mapped it in 3D layers,” Associate Ian Byrnes explained to a room of 100 intent listeners.
Ian and teammate Eric Jones, a lead associate representing Booz Allen’s local Seattle staff at the event, pitched their revolutionary Project MARLIN. Through Oculus Rift-enabled virtual and augmented reality, Project MARLIN creates what is essentially Google Earth for the bottom of the ocean, with applications for the military, oil and gas, and energy markets. The judges pressed on their go-to-market strategy, client feedback, and the proprietary viability of their solution.
Ian and Eric set the tone for the rest of the event. Over the next 2 hours, the crowd heard solutions that soared from the ocean floor to the skies. Brad Pilsl and Alan Kolackovsky presented an integrated engineering solution that outfits a special high-speed unmanned surface vehicle with Booz Allen products—a 4G LTE location solution and micro high-definition digital video recorder—to improve intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
Two groups from Dahlgren, Virginia, presented ideas for common controls architecture and interface protocols, as well as a new way to increase power density, for directed energy systems.
Susan Farley, a technologist from Crystal City, Virginia, presented her custom algorithm to help airlines optimize their flight schedules for unexpected delays. Sandy Marshall, a creative director from McLean, Virginia, presented a solution that utilizes Microsoft’s immersive HoloLens headset technology to train air traffic controllers through spatial visualization.
The biggest crowdpleaser, however, involved some tried-and-true aerial theatrics.
“I’m not trying to catch a 600-foot Space Needle in the face,” Lead Engineer Paul D’Angio proclaimed, a quip met immediately with laughter from the audience as he framed the danger that first-responder rescue teams face during natural disasters like earthquakes.
Amid the laughter, Senior Lead Engineer Justin Manzo unpacked the team’s custom-built unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) prototype and set it on the floor. Paul then grabbed a remote control and flew the drone in front of the wide-eyed audience and judge panel. By the time it landed the teammates had demonstrated an autonomous UAV solution to detect human lives faster and more safely.
A Century-Old Startup
Consultant Renis Nishku delivered the night’s most memorable pitch. He calmly walked out to an eager 100-person crowd. Ten feet away sat Booz Allen CEO Horacio Rozanski, who watched with a stoic curiosity. The casual observer wouldn’t have known it, but at that moment one of Booz Allen’s most junior staff members—6 months removed from graduating from the University of South Florida with a B.S. in industrial engineering—was about to ask for $25,000 of Booz Allen’s investment funds, in front of Booz Allen’s most senior executive.
Renis began his pitch with confidence. He described his solution to use the Microsoft HoloLens to create an Iron Man-like virtual environment for engineers and mechanics to analyze defects in manufacturing processes. By the time he ended and the judges finished their questions, the crowd applauded the youngest finalist in the history of the Combustion Chamber.
Thirty minutes later, Renis received $25,000 from the executive judging panel and mentorship from Booz Allen’s Strategic Ventures Principal Rob Ruyak.
This is who we are. We create avenues to put our people front and center and facilitate the collision of brilliant ideas. Because good ideas come from everywhere.