Orlando firm’s Armed Forces Jam win opened defense industry doors

Austin Pinzon, center, was part of the A Square Simulations team that won last year's Armed Forces Jam.

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An Orlando group that has been hosting themed hackathons for several years in Orlando took one of its biggest leaps forward last year, introducing Armed Forces Jam.

But its debut was merely a precursor to perhaps one of its greatest accomplishments: get a small business that won the hackathon into one of the most prestigious defense industry trade shows.

The winners received the opportunity to showcase their projects at Central Florida Tech Grove’s booth at I/ITSEC, thanks to support from Orlando-based officials from the newly arrived tech giant Unity, several top military leaders and the grove, a new venue near UCF.

“We held our own in the face of major defense companies,” said Austin Pinzon, cofounder of A Square Games and Simulation, which won the top prize of $2,500 and space at I/ITSEC. “These are people we have engaged with in the past but never at the level of representing our work right next to their daunting, two-story fabricated booths.”

Return of Armed Forces Jam details

The follow up to the inaugural Armed Forces Jam will launch at 6 p.m., Sept. 9 at Central Florida Tech Grove.

Armed Forces Jam coming back.
Attendees at the inaugural Armed Forces Jam in 2021. Photo courtesy of Indienomicon.

Last year, Pinzon’s team built a virtual reality-based, small-arms weapon simulator and trainer aimed at helping soldiers recognize hostile targets in an enclosed environment.

Throughout I/ITSEC, visitors stopped by the booth to try it out.

“We weren’t really nervous about talking with those who stopped by,” Pinzon said. “We were proud of what we had built and what we accomplished. It was an easy icebreaker.”

The introduction of the Armed Forces Jam represented another big milestone for Indienomicon, a group in Central Florida that supports independent video game developers.

In the past, it has hosted and organized game jams with ties to the space and healthcare industries, along with others.

In addition, it hosted monthly meetups that brought the community together to support local indie developers and their projects.

Now, however, the group wants to focus.

Armed Forces Jam
John Cunningham, Unity Technologies head of government and aerospace

“We once did a bunch of things,” said Chad Hoover, Indienomicon organizer. “After the pandemic, we needed to do one thing. We wanted to look at each jam, elevate the quality of the content and the value they provide.”

Partnerships make the dream work

To do that, the team behind the jams reached out, seeking partnerships that could further push its influence in the community.

When John Cunningham, the top Orlando-based official of the tech giant Unity, learned of the event, he quickly became an advocate.

“Many small companies and individuals have heard about the business opportunities in the defense industry (in Central Florida) but don’t know how to get connected,” said Cunningham, a longtime supporter of Orlando’s tech scene who is now head of government and aerospace at Unity Technologies. “This is a great way to get connected and get a taste of the community.”

Cunningham has become one of the top voices in Orlando’s tech community, frequently advocating and promoting its growth as a hub.

It’s events like Armed Forces Jam, he said, that will only help build that reputation more.

“Getting local companies involved is essential to ensure we are getting the innovation needed for our national defense,” he said.

On the other side, businesses like A Square Games and Simulation are thankful that they now have an avenue toward getting their skills noticed more.

“The experience led to several partnerships and contracts,” Pinzon said. “Not every connection we made panned out but it certainly got eyes on us and coming back into I/ITSEC this year, I think we’re becoming more recognizable in the space as a serious player.”