The theme for this year's Defense Department Small Business Training Week Conference is "Expand. Innovate. Diversify."
This theme "aligns closely with our priorities," said Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks, who spoke remotely at the conference.
Small businesses are indispensable in helping DOD defend the nation, she said.
Among those encouraged to attend the conference include DOD small business professionals, program managers and contracting officers.
Small businesses provide critical parts for weapons and systems platforms and develop innovative technologies so DOD can maintain its battlefield advantage, Hicks added, noting that small businesses generate 16 times more patents than larger firms.
"Their smaller size gives them an ability to rapidly experiment and implement change," Hicks said. To maintain its technological and military advantage, the U.S. needs to out-innovate competitors and any would-be adversary. Unfortunately, the number of small businesses in the Defense Industrial Base has declined by over 40% in the last decade, Hicks said.
"We know that working with DOD as a smaller firm isn't easy," she added.
Small businesses don't always have the resources to navigate complicated compliance practices, which can discourage them from working with the department, she said.
Reducing these barriers and creating more opportunities for small businesses will allow the department to expand, innovate, and diversify, increasing the warfighters' advantage, strengthening supply chains, increasing competition in the marketplace, and growing the U.S. economy, she said.
That is why DOD is taking steps to reverse the contraction in its small business industrial base.
For example, to better help small businesses compete effectively, DOD has put in place the Mentor-Protege Program, Hicks said.
The department is also ensuring Procurement Technical Assistance Centers are better integrated into DOD's broader small business and industrial base activities, she said.
DOD is also providing tools and technologies that the acquisition workforce needs to perform more effective market research, she said.
The virtual conference, which aims to provide attendees with insights into the current state of competition and systemic challenges to expanding competition while explaining the positive actions that DOD is taking to broaden its competitive base, will continue through June 23.