Military ‘idea lab’ coming to Downtown Tampa

May 19, 2015

Grayson Kamm | WTSP-TV 
A new military “idea lab” could bring some of the most cutting-edge jobs in the world to Downtown Tampa, as people team up to research technology and solve problems for SOCOM.
The special operations “idea laboratory” is coming to the Tampa Armature Works Building in an area called The Heights, just north of Downtown Tampa.
Some of the smartest military minds in the country already work in Tampa at MacDill Air Force Base, and this project will bring many of them out of the base and into our community.
U.S. Special Operations Command — or SOCOM — is going to be pushing for the newest, best ideas to equip our troops. And to do that, they’re creating a whole new concept.
SOCOM is opening a 3,000 square foot experimentation and collaboration space called SofWorX. The name looks like sort of a mash-up of “Special Operations Forces workshop,” with an edgy, experimental “X” at the end.
At SofWorX, engineers and scientists from the military will meet with civilians from companies, universities, and any other organization with innovative ideas; they’ll work together to create and test new technologies.
“This is our opportunity to really become one of the national leaders when it comes to the acceleration of new products, of new technologies,” Rick Homans told me. He’s the head of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation.
Homans worked with several volunteer advisers and staff members from the EDC, along with SOCOM, The Heights’ developers, and others to put this project together. A group called the Doolittle Institute will run SofWorX alongside SOCOM’s experts.
SOCOM has a $1.6 billion budget to develop new technology. And it’s controlled by our neighbors at MacDill Air Force Base, not by the Pentagon or Congress. So the potential attraction to Tampa is obvious for any company in the defense industry.
As the team that oversees all of America’s most elite troops, U.S. Special Operations Command constantly pushes the envelope, looking for technologies that let special operators see through walls or predict the future, as well as the TALOS or “Iron Man Suit.”
Homans told me if Tampa Bay goes “all in” on supporting and developing the potential of SofWorX, SOCOM’s initial investment will spark serious growth.
“They’re going to be what some of us call the ‘bug light’ to attract other entrepreneurs and venture capitalists and players to create this entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Homans told me.
And they will call on all of us for help. SOCOM is planning what it awesomely calls “Thunderdome” sessions, where our community can step up with ideas to solve their problems.
“They need to move in a matter of days and weeks, not months and years, and that’s why they want to be right here in Tampa Bay, collaborating with our entrepreneurs,” Homans said.