The US Air Force Labs with MassChallenge
A partnership between Air Force Research Labs, PEO Digital, PEO C3I&N, CROWS, the Griffiss Institute and MassChallenge to de-risk and grow cutting edge technologies and startups that are addressing national security challenges.
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The US Air Force Labs hosted by MassChallenge is an initiative to support the goal of driving innovation at speed for Program Executive Offices (PEOs) we support within the US Department of Defense. The Air Force Research Labs, PEO Digital, PEO C3I&N, CROWS, and the Griffiss Institute have partnered with MassChallenge, a global leader in startup acceleration, to de-risk and grow innovative technologies and startups that are addressing national security challenges.

MassChallenge will incubate an exclusive cohort of SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) Phase I awarded startups to help them transition to their Phase II awards at a higher rate by providing essential, customized resources and connections. Selected companies will receive:

  • Introductions to US Air Force end-users
  • Expert mentoring from the MassChallenge corporate network
  • Information sessions with industry experts geared toward helping your business scale.
  • Access to a robust ecosystem of defense innovation resources designed to promote transparency and to remove traditional roadblocks.
  • Access to the MassChallenge Accelerate platform to help facilitate the discovery of helpful people and resources.
  • Access to test various facilities contingent on COVID protocols.

About the Partnership

The Digital Directorate

The mission of the Digital Directorate is to expedite delivery of, and effectively support, warfighting battle management systems in partnership with users and industry. The directorate is committed to inserting modern technologies into battle management systems and continues to lead the digital transition to agile acquisition. Headquartered at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, with operating locations across the country and overseas, 3,500 Airmen, government civilians and support contractors execute a $19 billion future years’ defense program portfolio. The Digital Directorate also has led the charge in DevSecOps and established the first software factory, called Kessel Run, which is focused on delivering combat capabilities while transforming Department of Defense culture and policies involving software and IT.

The Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence, and Networks (C3I&N) Directorate

The C3I&N Directorate develops and acquires cryptologic, cyberspace, aerial networking/communication, enterprise IT and Cyber infrastructure, and special program capabilities for the Service. The directorate enables decisive combat operations by delivering net-centric solutions to drive dynamic integration of information/systems on the network in support of air, space, and cyberspace domains. The directorate is comprised of more than 2,400 acquisition and product support professionals operating primarily at Hanscom AFB, MA, with operating locations across the country. C3I&N currently executes more than 300 major programs or activities, spanning the entire acquisition life cycle from developmental planning to operations and sustainment, as well as foreign military sales, using innovative, agile acquisition approaches. These actions are valued in excess of $12 billion across all appropriations, including active funding and the current future years’ defense program. The directorate is committed to implementing an organizational culture that embodies key Air Force priorities such as digital engineering and transformation, a DevSecOps environment, and Joint Aerial Domain Command and Control powered by Advanced Battle Management Systems.

The Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapons Systems

The Cyber Resiliency Office for Weapons Systems (CROWS) is an Air Force level, interdisciplinary organization established under the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition, Technology & Logistics) to ensure Air Force weapon systems can perform their missions in a cyber-contested environment. We partner with acquisition, operational and test communities to assess the fielded fleet and with Program Executive Offices to prototype mitigation solutions. We also deliver tools, cyber-focused intelligence, a common security environment, education, training, and a cyber-savvy workforce to program offices—providing them the capability to do for their systems what CROWS does for the Acquisition Enterprise. We operate at every stage of the acquisition life cycle from development planning through sustainment.

AFL Alumni Companies

AgileDD | Airgility | Colvin Run Networks | Jaxon.AI | Lynq | Mesodyne | Pison | SEMA | Sensatek | SimX


News and Stories

  • Federal Funding for Early Stage Startups and How Startup SimpleSense Expanded Their Market to the Government: Read
  • Banshee Lessons Enhance Operational Mission: Read
  • Pilot project with MassChallenge reaches significant milestones: Read
  • Inagural Cohort: The US Air Force Lab with MassChallenge Announces Top 10 Startups: Read


“The startups had an accessible subject matter expert at their fingertips on the call every week. The experts answered questions such as how to format a letter of support, include multiple Department of Defense stakeholders or pursue Phase 3 opportunities.”

- Capt. Amanda Rebhi, Science & Technology Transfer Acquisition Manager, AT&L, and one of the Hanscom mentors for 2020 Air Force Labs


"What drew us most to the program was the ability to engage directly with Air Force end users, the C3I&N Directorate, and MassChallenge’s corporate networks, as we look to also integrate our underlying network stack into other use cases in the commercial sectors, such as drones, autonomous systems and smart agriculture.”

– Matt Misbin, Lynq


Air Force Labs Key Dates

  • Applications Open: December 15th @ 12PM EST
  • Applications Close: January 7th, 2022 @ 5PM EST
  • MC Round 1 Down Select: January 5th – 7th
  • Live Virtual Judging (Invite Only): January 17th – January 21st
  • 22.1 AFL Cohort Announcement: January 24th
  • Virtual Bootcamp/Program Launch: January 26th
  • Startup Support: January 31st – March 11th (Wednesdays & Fridays)
  • Virtual Showcase: March 16th

The deadline to apply for this opportunity is Friday, January 5th, 2022 at 5PM EST. To learn more and apply to Air Force Labs hosted by MassChallenge, please visit:

Who Can Apply?

The US Air Force Labs hosted by MassChallenge is actively looking for ventures (startups) that are:

  • Early-stage: Less than five years old, has no more than 50 employees, and has raised less than $25M USD in equity-based funding, and generated less than $10M in annual revenue.
  • Growth Oriented Dual-use Ventures: The team must be planning on scaling the company, (no small businesses or subsidiaries), through both commercial and federal markets.
  • 22.1 Phase I SBIR/STTR: Funding must come from the Air Force, in the form of a Phase I SBIR/STTR award in the 22.1 solicitation cycle. Startups must not have previously received more than THREE phase I SBIRs.

The US Air Force Labs hosted by MassChallenge is a free-of-cost, added benefit of receiving a Phase I SBIR Award and startups that fall beyond this range can still apply.

*Disclaimer: Acceptance and participation in this program does not guarantee a Phase II SBIR.

How To Apply

If you already have a MassChallenge Startup profile, click here and select your respective company, then select the AirForce application.

For those who haven't created a profile yet, click here to create your startup profile in order to apply.

About MassChallenge

MassChallenge is the global network for innovators. Headquartered in the United States with seven locations worldwide, MassChallenge equips bold entrepreneurs to disrupt the status quo and to create meaningful change. Since launching in 2009, more than 2,400 MassChallenge alumni have raised more than $6.2B in funding, generated more than $3B in revenue, and created more than 157,000 total jobs. Learn more about MassChallenge at


Questions? Contact the MassChallenge team at