Army launches ‘Shark Tank’-style competition for ventilator designs, successful ideas get $100,000

Students and instructors in the Medical Education and Training Campus Respiratory Therapist program practice safe distancing and wear face coverings while training with mechanical ventilators.

US Army photo

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army is offering an initial investment of $100,000 to innovators with plans to rapidly develop ventilators amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

The competition will be carried out by the Army’s acquisition unit under the expeditionary technology search program, dubbed “xTechSearch,” which aims to fund small businesses with novel dual-use technology solutions.

This particular competition, however, will be open to any American business, regardless of size.

“We’ve directed the Army expeditionary technology search program to reach out to the innovation community to find a rapid ventilator production system to support field hospitals that are still requiring critical infrastructure such as generators and pressurized oxygen,” explained Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy on Thursday at the Pentagon.

“This week, they’ll select innovators who will participate in the Army’s version of virtual ‘Shark Tank’ pitching ideas for low-cost, low-maintenance ventilators. The successful pitches will turn into an initial investment of $100,000 to develop your ideas,” McCarthy added.

Some of the winning solutions could receive follow-on contracts if the prototype is selected for production and deployment.

“The technology solution must provide a rapid-response breathing apparatus capable of short-term, rugged field operation in a small footprint that will support field hospitals,” wrote Zeke Topolosky, program manager of the Army xTechSearch, in a statement.

What’s more, the Army has already asked its colossal network of industry partners to retool production lines and manufacture equipment like gowns, masks and other protective equipment for the coronavirus fight.

“Our industry partners continue to bend metal, keeping the Army on track with our modernization efforts all the while adapting their production lines to adhere to social distancing protocols,” he added.

The Army’s top civilian also noted that the service is leveraging 3D technology to print parts for ventilators as well as face shields.

Disclosure: CNBC owns the exclusive off-network cable rights to “Shark Tank.”

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