The views and opinions of the authors expressed herein are solely those of the authors and should not be taken as a source of information for any Department of Defense, or the United States Military program.  The mention of companies by name should not be implied as endorsement.  This website is not an officical Department of Defense or United States Government site and does not reflect the official stance of the United States government or any programs therein. 

Calling All Space Start-ups! 

The United States Air Force is taking the stick on our first Defense Technology Accelerator effort and is partnering with LightSpeed Innovations to work with teams focused on dual-use technology with application to national security needs through a rigorous mentorship program to develop relevant technologies for space. 

CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS ON OUR SPACE ACCELERATOR COHORT         

CLICK HERE TO CONTACT US

The World is Innovating Rapidly...

 

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The last 10-15 years have led to an insurgence of rapidly innovating small businesses, disrupting entire industries and keeping their large incumbents on their toes! These companies are pushing out new technologies, new ways of using old technology, and new business models to disrupt the marketplace.  They are creating a competitive advantage for those larger entities that adopt these new concepts and tech advancements more readily to keep up with exciting, yet turbulent times.  World wide we're seeing large enterprise and state actors joining in the excitement -- we want to make sure the U.S. Department of Defense doesn't get left behind. The rapid innovation of these young companies can help the DoD maintain the competitive advantage that enables our national security. 

The Bad News:  Our traditional ways of doing business, while they serve a very important role in our interaction with big industry, just don't work with these emerging technology start-ups.  

The Good News:  There are many bright minds already working on this problem, and addressing ways to form relationships with this cutting edge corner of our economy, from different styles of outreach, to new contracting vehicles!

We're proposing to accelerate this process of connection, and do more than just interact with the start-up ecosystem, but begin to build an entrepreneurial industrial base focused on our innovating for our national security needs. 

The Defense Technology Accelerator Group

The Defense Technology Accelerator Group is a group of officers and acquisition professionals dedicated to the improvement of government acquisitions to ensure long lasting national security. 

The focus of this group is to understand and facilitate effective relationships between the department of defense and start-up companies by learning how the government can employ technology accelerators as an on ramp to connect to small business, with a plan to enable technology transition to meet national security needs. 

Defense Technology Accelerator 

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There is no silver bullet for connecting to these innovative teams -- and all of the current efforts will work together to enable success.  We've investigated a topic, and see an opportunity still waiting within that mission space.  We propose that the Department of Defense use what is known as a start-up accelerator in order to test solutions and iterate our acquisition model as it works with start-up companies in developing and deploying their validated mission needed prototypes. 

Those in the start-up world know the benefits of technology accelerators. Acceptance often improves the odds of success for a small business from around 10% to over 80%! We think the DoD should be taking part in that phenomenon to engage with the most promising entrepreneurial teams, and playing a role in their development to encourage the output of dual-use technology from the start-up ecosystem.

Start-up accelerators are short term, normally 3-6 month, programs that provide mentorship and education on the lean start-up methodology and assist companies in turning an idea into a demo that has been validated to have proper product-market fit. Examples of companies that have originated in start-up accelerators include Airbnb, dropbox, and Reddit.  

Start-up accelerators are fixed-term, cohort-based programs, that include mentorship and educational components and culminate in a public pitch event or demo day.  This is how a start-up accelerator can help with some of the issues the Air Force is having  

  • IDEAS  Have an idea that would revolutionize  the Department of Defense as we know it? Great! The companies applying for a Defense Technology Accelerator cohort can come in with their own ideas.  These ideas could lead to revolutionary capability increase or more efficient systems.  Ideas will be actively encouraged and campaigned for. 
  • EMBRACE RISK The companies coming into the cohort are by definition risky.  They are backed by venture capital funds, which assumes a large return on their investment.  With that large return comes an understanding of significant risks. This type of partnership ensures that the DoD HAS TO take risks.  These risky business ventures are what also lead to significant capability increases that many times the DoD misses out on due to our risk aversion. 
  • SPEED Structure of program is to iterate fast, they teach this 
  • PROBLEMS vs. REQUIREMENTS A Defense Technology Accelerator will test the hypothesis that the DoD can submit problems, not requirements, in order to out innovate our adversaries. 
  • ADOPT FIRST An Defense Technology Accelerator would encourage many units to become early adopters for promising technology developed by start-ups... Being the first to pick up a prototype and test and "break it".  
  • AGILE PRACTICES A Defense Technology Accelerator could be used as the test-bed to test new acquisition practices that the Air Force may want to adopt service wide.

A Defense Technology Accelerator is only a small piece of the department of defense start-up ecosystem that is required to drive innovation.  However, the companies that graduate from the Defense Technology Accelerator program will have validated product mission fit and be educated and equipped to tackle some of the obstacles that normally hinder start-ups from working with the government.  For most applications a prototype is expected to take 3-24 months of iterative and incremental development in order to produce a deployable prototype.  Although a Defense Technology Accelerator cohort will only last 3-6 months,  the Defense Technology Accelerator team would work with graduated cohort teams within the Department of Defense start-up ecosystem in order to ensure that validated concepts ultimately find their hands rapidly within the warfighter's hands. 

 
 

A Defense Technology Accelerator Overview

A Defense Technology Accelerator would be a 3-6 month program that accepts approximately 10-20 promising start-ups into each cohort.  DoD leaders would define an area requiring innovation (for instance, "cyber security" or "drone technology"), and start-ups that apply and are selected would develop business models around solving critical problems within this central theme, or "vertical".   The objective of the cohort would be to teach the teams the lean start-up methodology and how to apply those concepts to mission centric organizations.  They would also teach the teams the military acquisition process ensuring that companies going through the cohort are comfortable working within the existing acquisition system.  A Defense Technology Accelerator Accelerator would be part of a larger 3-24 month ecosystem designed to take start-up companies from concept idea to deployable prototype.  

 

Customer Discovery 

The lean start-up methodology is relies heavily upon the power of customer discovery. During customer discovery a company can validate product and market fit, or in the military sense product mission fit.  During customer discovery companies will get direct access to operational users, program managers, senior DoD leaders, and any other beneficiary required in order to better understand the true problem and to iterate and ultimately validate the solution to that problem without ever having to build it.  Teams will also be mentored on how to leverage their product concept towards dual use technology that also benefits private industry.  The goal of the Defense Technology Accelerator customer discovery process is to validated a business model that supports a scalable dual use technology that benefits both the Department of Defense and the private sector.  

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Product Development

Once a product mission fit has been validated through customer discovery, product development can begin in full.  Teams will learn about agile and lean development processes in order to adopt efficient business practices.  Agile development practices focuses on incremental and iterative development cycles that stress short development sprints.  Each development iteration will be validated by deploying and testing the demo product in the hands of the end customer. This process is drastically different than most traditional acquisition systems within the Department of Defense, upon which requirement documents drive product development rather than incremental and concurrent hands on feedback. 

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Deployed Prototype Delivered  

The primary purpose of a Defense Technology Accelerator is to play a role within the ecosystem that deploys new capabilities for the Air Force.  Although a typical accelerator lasts 3-6 months, it is expected that many technologies will require further testing and development in order to be useful for the Department of Defense.  If proper product mission fit is validated through customer discovery the Defense Technology Accelerator team will partner with organizations within the start-up ecosystem that can enable teams to take their concept through incremental and iterative development cycles to deployable prototype.  Provided a successful demonstration of a prototype and proper product mission fit, the Defense Technology Accelerator team will work with the cohort team and the traditional acquisition process to transition the duel use technology into warfighter hands.  

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Defense Technology Accelerator Concept

Through Hacking 4 Defense

And we are going through additional steps to validate our concept.  There is a scientific process behind business model or in our case mission model development and validation. We are taking this Defense Technology Accelerator concept through this scientific process to see what comes out on the other end.  In particular we are following Steve Blank and Peter Newell's Hacking for Defense program, upon which small teams perform mission model validation over approximately 10 weeks of customer discover.  A key part of this process is to be open and accept pointed criticism to the proposed concept.  To honor this transparency, we have started a Defense Accelerator.  We will post our weekly updates to the lessons we learned through the week, and provide updates to our Mission Model Canvas (MMC) as well as our Minimal Viable Product (MVP), in the hopes that you provide us with feedback on what we are proposing. This feedback is part of the process and is vital for the ultimate success of this accelerator concept.  We will also post on this homepage our latest updated versions of our MMC and MVP. 

Current Minimal Viable Product

There are many routes that the government can take when it has a problem requiring innovation.  Additionally, there are many routes a small business can take in order to share a great idea with the government. Our research has shown that there will be no one road that every innovative young company will follow.  As such, we've developed a working concept for where and why we think technology accelerators can fit.

The goal of these accelerators is to broaden the spectrum of start-up businesses with which we can interact. Rather than solely relying on those with fully developed products ready to retrofit to a government need, we'd like to also offer a space for small developing companies to come and generate dual-use technology with mentorship from relevant sources and access to government customers to enable proper customer discovery. 

Next Steps

One of the biggest things we've learned through our customer discovery is that there is no "one size fit's all" for technology accelerators, both for the start-up companies looking to join them, and for the sponsor units wishing to run one.  We would like to better characterize the space and show that the accelerator concept can be used on varied timelines, with varied budgets and with varied specificity to the problem space. 

 

 

Our Team

 

 
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AUSTIN DELORME

Austin DeLorme is an active duty captain in the United States Air Force stationed at Kirtland AFB NM.  She currently works as Deputy Chief of the Weapons Effects Branch at the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center where she uses her expertise in modeling & simulation to further the national nuclear deterrence mission. In previous assignments she has worked at the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Technical Application Center working as a scientist, program manager, and lead for strategic communication. Her dedication to service goes beyond the Air Force to include countless hours of volunteering, and the founding of a charity organization dedicated to benefiting local nonprofits. 

CHRIS BENSON

Dr. Chris Benson is an active duty Air Force Captain stationed at Hill AFB UT. He currently works as the GBSD Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) Lead where he uses his system engineering expertise to ensure a strong nuclear deterrence for the Air Force and the Department of Defense .  Chris is also an entrepreneur, having founded 3 companies that have generated over $1M in total revenue.  He as also worked at a top 1% VC firm (General Catalyst) and even taught the most popular technical entrepreneurship course at MIT.  He is also the main author on RFP(MS-A 6 Sep 16).  Chris received his Mechanical Engineering S.B., S.M., and PhD's from MIT. 

 

 

 

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STEVEN LAUVER

Steven Lauver is an active duty Air Force Captain stationed at Hurlburt Field, FL.  He currently works as an aircraft commander & tactics officers on the U-28A.  Steve also has cofounded 3 companies (Nodify Inc, Africa Redefined, & Pump Fitness). Steve also founded the Miracle Movement at USAFA while still a cadet.  He also was the recent recipient of the Commandant's Leadership Award at Squadron Officer School (SOS), where this Air Force Accelerator program was originally initiated. 

 

 

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ROBERT SLAUGHTER

Dr. Robert Slaughter is an active duty Air Force Captain stationed at Kirtland AFB NM.  He currently works  at Starfire Optical Range AFRL where he uses his expertise in computer vision to support space situation awareness.  He is also the co-founder and CEO of a venture backed tech start-up company called Bee The Swarm.  He is passionate about using his start-up experience to help drive better business, management, and development process for the Air Force and the Department of Defense. 

Our Inspiration & Motivation 

Our motivation is driven by our understanding that BETTER IS POSSIBLE.  We have an unwillingness to accept mediocrity, an unwillingness to accept the status quo, and an unwillingness to stay within the lanes that others have drawn for us.  Our inspiration draws from a comparison to the movement that Dr. Atul Gawande started within the medical field to make medicine about moral practice and saving lives rather than bureaucracy and avoiding risk. 

Dr. Gawande's most famous quote, "Better is possible" is inspired by a story of a young child who suffered a head injury after falling off his bike that lead to bleeding in the brain.  He arrived at a small hospital and began drifting in and out of consciousness.  After realizing the local hospital did not have the necessary surgical equipment, a local doctor was faced with a difficult decision.  Attempt a procedure that has no documentation of ever being used in successful treating a patient, or wait by hopelessly and watch the young boy die.  Standard risk adverse medical practices would say not to treat the child.  But instead, the local doctor used a drill from the maintenance room and bore into the boy's skull to relieve the pressure on his brain.  That young boy, Nicholas Rossi, is alive today because a brave doctor took a chance, and accepted the risk. 

The Department of Defense's risk aversion is no less life threatening than this more straight forward medical example.  And together as a community we must ask ourselves if BETTER is possible. 

 

Join the Cause

If you're interested in what we are proposing and think you have valuable input, please reach out to us so we can get in touch.  We want to include as much key input into the concept as possible, in order to further validate what we are proposing.  

You can also follow the incremental iterations of this concept on our Air Force Accelerator Blog. 

 

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