Air University aims to spark more innovation, collaboration with MGMWERX

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Mae-Li Allison
  • Air University Public Affairs

Air University has long been considered the leadership-development center for the Air Force, and it continues its 72-year-long legacy with a new joint venture, named MGMWERX, in collaboration with the City of Montgomery, Montgomery County, and the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, to encourage innovation.  

“The dream of MGMWERX is to harken back to our legacy as the Air Corps Tactical School and once again deliver ground-breaking solutions to the warfighter and become the breeding ground of innovative thought to the Air Force,” said Michael Gray, Air University’s Chief Financial Officer and lead AU representative for the initiative.

In the spirit of partnership, and in line with the effort to create a robust tech and innovation ecosystem in the region, the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce has offered office space in downtown Montgomery, close to Maxwell Air Force Base. This will serve as a convenient and easily accessible meeting spot for military and civilians alike for groundbreaking research and dynamic collaboration.

According to Gray, the idea for MGMWERX emerged in 2016 as AU sought creative ways to meet the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s challenge to find cost-effective means of bettering military capabilities through technical excellence and innovation. Following a diligent search of many different options, AU determined that working with the Air Force Research Laboratory to establish a Partnership Intermediary Agreement (PIA) would best serve AU’s interest to create and grow a physical and cultural environment to serve such a purpose, while harnessing the brainpower of its students and faculty.

The PIA, formally signed with the non-profit corporation Defensewerx Feb. 13, gives AU the latitude to collaborate with local and state government, higher education institutions, and intergovernmental agencies. Air University has committed about $2 million to Defensewerx to establish MGMWERX and to serve as its partner over the next five years. 

“In short, MGMWERX will provide AU an ‘outside-the-fence’ environment to enable AU members, academia, industry, and other government organizations to experience innovation and collaboration in unique ways through facilitated experimentation with emerging tools, processes, and methods to solve real Air Force problems,” explained Gray. “This initiative will be money well-spent; this has already been done successfully with similar models like Special Operations Command’s ‘SOFWERX’ and the U.S. Air Force Academy’s ‘CyberWorx.’”

One important difference between MGMWERX and other “WERX” programs is that it will not necessarily be generating technical prototypes. Rather, the idea is that MGMWERX will allow AU to be more than a thesis-producing organization, providing a vibrant ecosystem shaping successful collaborations.

Ultimately, AU’s goal through MGMWERX is to develop more well-rounded leaders who, through a process of deliberate exposure to a cross-section of industry, academia, and non-traditional commercial partners, are better prepared to deal with an uncertain future.  MGMWERX would innovate and commercialize thoughts and technologies, serving as the connective tissue between academia, industry, and military leaders. 

“This is an exciting time for both AU and the River Region,” said Lt. Gen. Anthony Cotton, who took the helm as commander and president of AU just two days after AU signed the partnership agreement with Defensewerx. “We are at the beginning stages of establishing a new type of collaboration with other government organizations and industry, which I expect will prove to be fruitful and enduring.”

At this time Defensewerx is hiring a handful of personnel to administer the program in Montgomery, and AU is refining its plans and expectations, while determining what topics to first present for collaboration. MGMWERX is expected to begin working on Air Force topics by late summer of this year.