February 12, 2020

Four years since we launched Hacking for Defense®, we have made huge strides in our mission to make the world a better, safer place. Through H4D, we teach university students how to use modern innovation tools and techniques to rapidly solve the nation’s emerging threats and security challenges; through the course, we have also encouraged a new generation of mission-driven entrepreneurs to build new ventures. H4D is the flagship program of BMNT’s nonprofit arm, The Common Mission Project, and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Security Innovation Network. 

Since 2016, when we piloted H4D at Stanford, more than 1,000 students at 30 universities have addressed 282 defense challenges, identifying ways to help our warfighters do their jobs more quickly and efficiently. In the process, participation in the course has led some participants to explore a whole new career path: 27 teams have either considered or founded mission-driven companies as a result of their course work.   

Learn2Win, Lumineye, EmbargoNK, and Capella Space are just four examples of how H4D students are continuing to make a difference using what they learned in the class:

Learn2Win, comprised of four entrepreneurs from the 2019 H4D cohort at Stanford University, figured out how to improve the training process for military aviators using the same tools that help train elite collegiate athletes. In class, Learn2Win learned that the outdated or inaccessible training tools made it difficult for aviators to maintain their knowledge of mechanical and engineering details of their aircrafts. Two team members, who have sports and education technology backgrounds, had previously developed a software platform to build smart playbooks to train athletes. Seeing success in training Division 1 NCAA teams, Learn2Win saw a new use for their product that could revolutionize the Air Force training program. The team quickly generated interest among military aviators and successfully demoed the capability of delivering on-demand, up-to-date training via a mobile application for several air squadrons. The feedback was positive, and at the course’s conclusion, Learn2Win secured funding from the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) and teamed with H4XLabs, BMNT’s business accelerator focused on creating dual-use companies with the potential to solve critical national security challenges. As a result of their work with H4XLabs, Learn2Win was awarded a USAF Direct to Phase II SBIR grant and will now build, test, and tailor their solution to address the challenges of training our Air Force.

Formed by five students from the same 2019 Stanford course as L2W, EmbargoNK developed policy recommendations for the Office of the Secretary of Defense to enforce the United Nations Security Council’s sanctions against North Korea. Through their work, the team – who originally aimed to develop a tool to curtail their illicit shipping economy – uncovered North Korea’s use of unsecured cryptocurrency exchanges to steal up to $700M per instance. This previously unexplored revenue stream led the team to pivot toward devising a series of recommendations to decrease the number of cryptocurrency sources available to North Korea and to initiate asset freezing for specific periods of time. These measures could provide the U.S. with a critical advantage in future negotiations with North Korea. After the course, the team delivered these recommendations to a senior DoD stakeholder and the Special Envoy to North Korea to inform national security policy.

Lumineye is helping first responders see through walls. The team, which got its start in the 2017 cohort at Boise State University, created a wall-penetrating radar sensor that uses pulse radar technology and signal analysis software to determine the approximate size, range, and movement characteristics of a signal. Driven to build the solution they designed, the team worked with the Y Combinator startup incubator to launch their company and further develop their idea. As a result of that work, Lumineye won a $120,000 Army xTechSearch2.0 grant and is now working to create their sensor and get it into the hands of the warfighter, solving one of the Army’s most critical challenges.

Capella Space took what it learned in the first-ever H4D cohort at Stanford and is helping organizations around the globe solve such tough challenges as identifying illicit activity and responding to disasters. The genesis for the network of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites Capella Space designed was in helping the US Navy solve its operational challenges with using satellite imagery with obstructed views caused by clouds.  Capella Space designed a network of satellites that could capture real-time, high-quality images of Earth through clouds, smoke, fog, and darkness to provide critical information to the Navy as quickly as possible.  After the course concluded, Capella Space successfully launched their first SAR satellite into space in 2017 and have since raised over $33.9M in funding to continue their efforts. The now-company is building the world's largest commercial SAR satellite constellation to provide timely data about small-scale movements on the surface of the earth.  

As these examples show, H4D students are not only challenging how we think about and solve our toughest problems; they are challenging who sees themselves as entrepreneurs. 

We all have a role in the Mission-Driven Entrepreneurship movement to ensure a safe, secure 21st century. Armed with this knowledge, are you ready to join us?