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How Small Businesses Can Slay the Microelectronics Commons Dragon

By Heath Murray, Partner & Portfolio Director


Between Wednesday, September 20th, and the following Wednesday, September 27th, I received 16 phone calls from 16 different individuals and small businesses (better known as ‘non-traditional defense contractors,’ more on that later) asking me one, specific question:

“What is this Microelectronics Commons and is it relevant to me?”

My answer - “Yes, of course it is. It’s a massive opportunity for you.”

The funding behind the $2 billion allotted to Microelectronics Commons is, of course, through the CHIPS and Science Act passed into law earlier this year.

In our great Hoosier state, we were lucky enough to win one of the eight (8) technology hubs. The Silicon Crossroads Tech hub led by the Applied Research Institute (ARI) sits right in our backyard, and, in our neighboring state of Ohio, the Midwest Microelectronics Consortium Hub.

It’s so important that White House National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard stated, “The President knows that smaller suppliers and the good jobs they support are vital to restoring and sustaining American leadership in semiconductors, and today’s announcement is an important step towards that goal.”

Anyone that knows me knows I have a couple of passions, outside of the Department of Defense (DoD) small business, two of which are Dungeons and Dragons and heavy metal.

So good news - I get to incorporate both of these in this OpEd.

What we have to focus on, or here is the obligatory DnD term, ‘min/mix our capabilities,’ as Hoosiers- capitalize on the opportunities dropped right in our lap, and very rarely does that happen (trust me, fellow entrepreneur here).

While I love to boast about my fellow Hoosiers and our Midwest states, the entire nation is benefiting from Microelectronics Commons with hubs awarded in places like northern California, Arizona, and the Northeast, just to name a few.

While all this is great, fine, and dandy, it goes back to my first question, ‘What is Microelectronics Commons and what does it have to do with our small businesses?”

Cross-hub pollination of resources, ideas, and projects, unlike in the commercial world, here in the defense ecosystem (government-industry-academia) world is actually encouraged! Now a small semiconductor manufacturer in a rural community in Ohio can be part of a larger team in Arizona or North Carolina. Naturally, as these businesses work together to solve our trusted supply chain of semiconductor components, more discussion can be had on other DoD and/or commercial applications that these teams can work together towards ultimately exposing companies, academic institutions, and other organizations to opportunities and technologies they may not have previously considered.

A great and successful DnD campaign is diverse and works from both the party character’s strengths and weaknesses and the Dungeon Master’s (DM) setup of the story.

A party full of fighters and barbarians may be able to slaughter trolls, but will not fair successfully against a coven of witches or sorcerers, and on the other hand, a group of wizards and warlocks may be able to damage from a distance, but the minute that party of orcs breaks through the defenses, it's a TPK, or better known to we DM’s and players, a “Total Party Kill.”

To distill it down to non-DnD nerds - a diverse party is a successful party.

No one wants a TPK, not the DM, nor the party members. We have all invested too much time and effort into crafting the story, creating our characters, and overall, we just like playing together.

Taking this same approach to non-traditional contractors (party members) and the DoD (DM), everyone wants to succeed. Small businesses can grow and strengthen their local economies and the DoD gets capable and ready technology into the hands of our warfighters faster, cheaper, and more efficiently than ever before.

Normally, this is a very complicated, expensive, and lengthy process, for both industry and government. But, just like a DM bringing a Non-Player Character (NPC) who strengthens the party for a bit (they can’t take over the story, because ultimately, it’s still the player’s campaign) but they offer valuable lore and insight to give the players a boost when they need it the most.

Queue the introduction of the DoD’s NPCs - groups and programs like National Security Innovation Capital (NSIC), Office of Strategic Capital (OSC), and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) the pathways to quicker acquisition and contracts have been opened for these non-traditional contractors.

But what is a non-traditional defense contractor? Funny you ask! (I told you we would revisit this):

Defined in section 3014 of title 10 of the United States Code (10 U.S.C. §3014), the term “non-traditional defense contractor,” means an entity that is not currently performing and has not performed, for at least the one-year period preceding the solicitation of sources by the Department of Defense (DoD) for the procurement or transaction, any contract or subcontract for the DoD… If you’re wondering if your small business is a ‘non-traditional’, it probably is.

Non-traditional defense contractors are the core and the driving force behind the defense industrial base, especially right here in the heartland of America.

They are so important that Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks said, “Reducing barriers and creating more opportunities for small businesses will allow us to expand, innovate, and diversify, increasing our warfighter advantage, strengthening our supply chains, increasing competition in our marketplace, and growing our economy here at home.”

The DoD, our governmental DM, has crafted a fantastic story, brought the unique and diverse group together, set up their NPCs, and laid out an intriguing and captivating story within our great country.

So now, we, the small businesses, need to step up to the table, create our parties’ teammates, maximize our damage attribute, and roll a natural 20, and slay that giant red dragon.


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