How a startup poised to modernize Air Force fleet logistics got its start
This is one in an occasional series looking at the journeys of startup teams that have come through H4XLabs.
By Ellen Chang
Jordi Vila, Jeff Jang, Jack Hochschild and Dilan Nana comprise a technical team of electrical, aerospace and computer science engineers who are born problem solvers.
They found each other while taking the Hacking 4 Defense course at Stanford, where they discovered that inefficiencies in resource allocation and planning were preventing the United States Air Force from effectively managing its vehicle fleet, causing frustrating delays in vital operations.
Through extensive research, including input from more than 150 airmen, the engineers became experts on the problem and devised a solution. They developed a single, standardized and scalable platform that would streamline USAF procedures.
And they formed FLIP – Fleet Logistics Intelligence Platform. The new company’s mission is to simplify all aspects of fleet management across the Air Force and increase mission readiness while minimizing vehicle downtime. The founders hope to expand their solution across the entire USAF, to other branches of the military and beyond.
As anyone who has undertaken the challenge of getting a startup off the ground knows, their work was just beginning. Jordi and his colleagues knew that as well. What they did not fully appreciate at the time were the additional challenges that would come from working with the United States Department of Defense.
Putting vision into action
While H4D provided the FLIP team with uniquely insightful knowledge, and the confidence and passion to pursue a new company, they knew reaching the level of growth and broadened capacity they envisioned would require a distinct set of skills and knowledge they didn’t have.
Access to funding and knowing how to navigate the government contracting process were two key challenges for them as they began working with the H4XLabs enterprise accelerator over the summer.
“We soon realized that in order to achieve this goal where all the pieces can fit together, we had to follow the usual government contracting process; incorporating a company, getting a contract awarded and working with cybersecurity experts that will help us deploy our product at scale, and H4XLabs has been a great resource to navigate this process,” Vila said.
One of their first steps was preparing an SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grant application. An SBIR grant would allow them to work with the software factories within the USAF that would help them deploy their technology.
Learning the best and quickest path through the government contracting process came next.
As a technical team with electrical, aerospace and computer science engineers making up their ranks, the FLIP members have always been focused on product and technology. Now they were seeing that to make their products usable within the DoD, they also had to scale large regulatory mountains.
“It takes time to learn about all the paperwork involved to keep the ball rolling, but once you have figured out all the steps you can set autopilot and focus on what matters most; building the product,” Vila explained.
Building the product required more customer discovery of the type they did in the H4D class. Throughout the summer they continued to speak with Air Force veterans and service members to gain a deeper understanding of the fleet logistics problem FLIP is looking to solve.
Most rewarding for Vila and his colleagues, Vila said, is knowing that their work helps support America’s military and our allies across the world.
In the coming years, the FLIP team wants to continue expanding its product offering. “Having analyzed vast amounts of data, we are confident that we can grow our platform by incorporating algorithms based on Machine Learning into our models, so we can predict breakdowns before they happen, saving time and resources for the Air Force. We want to create a network of interconnected vehicles that take care of themselves, reducing human intervention and enabling service members to focus on what matters most,” Vila said.
FLIP was invited to Travis Air Force base in California to observe the maintenance process end-to-end. This experience was incredibly important for the beneficiary discovery.
In the picture, Jack and Jordi receive a tour of the base and the vehicles by an Air Force Captain.