Needed: New Generation Of Risk-Takers To Take On DoD’s Systemic Innovation Shortfalls

The best way to advance defense innovation is to infuse new perspectives into our stale system

Pete Newell

April 27, 2023

It is no secret that The U.S. Department of Defense suffers from systemic shortfalls that cripple our ability to innovate or solve glaring problems. We are all but tossing the keys of power to our greatest adversaries. The single most effective way to alter the trajectory is to infuse new ideas and perspectives into our stale system, and thankfully the next generation of technologists is teaming with talented and passionate problem solvers ready to do their parts. 

On Callye Keen’s recent  Startup Defense podcast, I had a chance to discuss how the series of academic programs we created – Hacking 4 Defense (H4D) and its sister classes; Homeland Security, Diplomacy, Energy, and Climate (collectively known as H4X Courses) –  are engaging a new generation of young people to take up the charge. 

Hacking for Defense alums Team Agrippa who took the class at Stanford, share their journey through the class at an April 20 Congressional briefing.

Student solutions to government challenges

We knew when we created Hacking for Defense nine years ago that engaging our best and brightest students with the government and equipping them to solve real-world problems could be a fundamental way to build effective national security. 

Callye and I discussed how the H4X courses build trust and mutual respect between two polar worlds, destigmatizing perceptions and paving the way for expanded collaboration. H4X brings young people to the national-service table, whether they work in the public sector later in their careers or not. More than 3,000 students at 60+ universities have gone through H4D alone in the time since, addressing 850+ national security and intelligence community challenges. Fifty-three of the teams have formed dual-use ventures and 75% of participants changed their opinion about working with the DoD and other U.S. government organizations as a result of their experience.

This infuses entrepreneurial skill and discipline into entrenched patterns and helps heal broken systems. Once someone has become a part of that rich ecosystem of solving national problems, they take that understanding with them wherever they go. 

Since H4X began, it has built a cadre of entrepreneurs and solution-oriented innovators who understand both government and commercial problems. The shared obligation of helping those companies thrive through enabling opportunities with the Government is another key component of strengthening the nation. The DoD will be more effective when it can rely on private companies and businesses to take action to solve national security challenges. 

Solving problems that matter

One of the best ways individuals can get involved in solving national security problems is by becoming vocal, thoughtful participants in ongoing conversations about the country’s critical challenges. Fresh perspectives provide an antidote to “stuck” solutioneering. 

Secondly, getting involved in one of the H4X courses as an advisor or mentor to a student team is the fastest way to learn about critical needs in defense innovation. I learn more about entrepreneurship and technology working with H4d students than anywhere else. Working on real problems with real people is an amazing experience and powerful way to connect and build lasting solutions that produce results.

Hear more soundbites from our conversation on the following time stamps:

1:00: History with military and Rapid Equipping Force

6:37: Problem curation and thinking like an entrepreneur in the military

10:37: Innovation is a cultural process

13:32: Adopting risk to de-risk

15:34: Origins of of Hacking 4 Defense

21:09: Changing the way the government thinks  

24:21: Good innovation starts with a good team

25:00: Metrics for effective dual-use readiness 

27:05: Organizations doing it right

29:03: How to get involved

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