Online conversation about The Refinery, a VentureScope accelerator for innovators within the U.S. Air Force. Pictured in the lower half of the screen is Air Force Chief Master Sergeant JoAnne Bass. Credit: VentureScope

SAN FRANCISCO — VentureScope, a consulting and venture investment firm, won a contract to establish an internal accelerator as part of AFWERX, a U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory initiative to connect government, industry and academic innovators.

Under a $750,000 Air Force Small Business Innovation Research contract, VentureScope is setting up The Refinery, an accelerator to help innovators within the Air Force address problems and devise solutions that could be adopted throughout the Air Force and Defense Department.

In recent years, the Defense Department, Air Force and Space Force have established multiple initiatives to forge ties with commercial firms developing technology and services with promising military applications. In contrast, The Refinery is designed for Air Force personnel.

“The Air Force has some really smart folks with some sharp ideas that, if properly cultivated, could solve key problems,” Jason Chen, VentureScope founder and CEO, told SpaceNews. “This contract is focused on having an internal accelerator to help them flesh those ideas out, develop buy-in within the Air Force and build out the actual solution.”

Traditionally, Falls Church, Virginia-based VentureScope has helped government agencies and large private enterprises connect with startups and venture capital groups. VentureScope also runs Mach37, an accelerator for cybersecurity startups.

Mach37 focuses on building “the next generation of cyber companies through its diverse network, emerging tech scouting, and emphasis on applying customer discovery, leadership and well-being skill sets,” according to a Dec. 13 VentureScope news release. For the SBIR contract, VentureScope will draw on its Mach37 platform to support people addressing military problems.

“We are pleased to partner with VentureScope and their team to bring their startup acceleration expertise into the Air Force,” Colin Dziadaszek, Air Force Refinery program manager, said in a statement. “Through their SBIR contract, we are adding world-class accelerator tools, workshops and programmatics to The Refinery’s operations. This will advance our goal to help Airmen and Guardians rapidly prototype and scale their solutions that meet critical mission needs.”

After years of working with entrepreneurs, VentureScope executives see growing demand among organizations seeking support for intrapreneurs, people within organizations who have innovative ideas.

“Large organizations are trying to create opportunities for people to stay inside and use their creative mindsets to build something that would be of value to the organization and its customer base,” Chen said. Like entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs can help organizations struggling to keep up with the frenetic pace of technological change, Chen added.

While intrapreneurs may not profit financially from their innovations in the same way as entrepreneurs, “they’re looking to improve their own jobs, solve the problems that are right in front of them and have an impact on an organization,” said Jennifer Quarrie, VentureScope chief operations officer. In addition, intrapreneurial activity can lead to an individual’s promotion with an organization and give someone a sense of autonomy within a hierarchical organization, Quarrie added.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...