Defense IT

Military services look to promote 'intrepreneurs'

Among the expanding efforts to transform the way the U.S. military develops and deploys new technologies based on models perfected by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs is a new project designed to support what organizers call a cadre of "military intrapreneurs."

The Athena Project convened last week in Silicon Valley to stage what amounted to a project-pitching session. The idea is to develop new acquisition skills akin to technology startups that would eventually allow the military services to move away from the current, hidebound technology procurement system. Project organizers said they are also working with the Defense Entrepreneur's Forum launched several years ago to "disrupt" the technology procurement status quo.

These and other grassroots innovation efforts such as the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) seek to establish closer ties with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and embrace lean startup approaches to identify and speed deployment of emerging technologies. DOD established DIUx as a permanent outreach office in the Silicon Valley, and has launched several projects aimed at developing new technologies. Another effort called "Hacking 4 Defense" is a DOD-sponsored lean-startup initiative exploring new ways of developing technologies and deploying them faster in response to realities of asymmetrical warfare.

The Athena Project event in San Jose, Calif., gave "intrapreneurs" five minutes to pitch technology proposals. PowerPoint presentations were forbidden. Winners will move to the next level, which includes an inaugural Project Athena event to be held during the Sea Air Space Exposition this month outside Washington, where presenters will pitch technology proposals to a panel of senior military and intelligence officials.

Thus far, the entrepreneurial approach has generated modest funding for technology development. Project organizers said two Athena concepts received $100,000 each to transition technologies to the Navy. Overall, the Navy is investing more than $1 million in technology concepts generated by the Athena Project. However, the long-term goal remains—changing the Pentagon's acquisition culture in response to greater use of social media and other tools by terror groups like ISIS.

Among the early technology development projects sponsored by the Athena Project are an active sonar defense platform and an optical database and information network that leverages a new algorithm to help identify hostile ships.

About the Author

George Leopold is a contributing editor for Defense Systems and author of Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom."Connect with him on Twitter at @gleopold1.

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