DIU looks at ways tech entrepreneurs can
do business with the Department of Defense
Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists discovered ways to do business with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) when the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) presented at the Atlanta Technology Development Center (ATDC), the state’s internationally recognized technology business incubator, Monday.
The DIU is a DoD-funded matchmaker of sorts, working to connect various DoD partners with commercial companies to solve specific problems for the military. The two events, one for entrepreneurs and one for venture capitalists, offered the opportunity for Georgians to learn more about the technology focus areas of the DIU, the acquisition processes, and ways to engage with them. The DIU’s single goal is getting essential technology into the DoD to strengthen the national security innovation base.
“It’s no secret that dual use technology — technology with commercial and government applications — is going to be increasingly important going forward,” said Mike Madsen, the DIU’s director of strategic engagement. “If you look at what some of our would-be adversaries are doing, they are making their commercially developed technology immediately available to their militaries. We have to get folks to want to work with us. And let’s face it, we make this as hard as possible.”
Streamlining the process for bringing new commercial tech companies into the DoD fold was the idea behind the creation of the DIU seven years ago.
“Everything starts with a DoD problem set,” Madsen said. That’s a specific problem that the DoD thinks can be solved through a commercial application. The solution may be something that’s already commercially available or it may be a commercial product that would need to be customized to suit the military.
The DIU works with DoD to state the problem simply, in non-military terms. “We get rid of the Pentagon jargon, get rid of the acronyms, make it easily understood by the commercial sector,” Madsen said. “And then our commercial engagement team is engaged in the commercial sector to make sure that there’s a commercial solution for what DoD is trying to solve … then we can prototype and go from there.”
The problems that DoD is looking to solve, along with information about submitting a possible solution, are spelled out — in non-jargon — on the DIU website.
The DIU’s six technology areas of focus — and the areas tech firms might find a fit — are artificial intelligence, autonomy, cyber, energy, human systems, and space.
The hybrid event (virtual and in person) drew about 65 people, who were very engaged, with questions both during and following the presentations. The roadshow, which will be repeated throughout the country, is designed to expand the DIU’s already broad reach. The organization has 98 ongoing projects and 51 completed projects, with 105 first-time DoD vendors. The unit also has some serious money to support prototyping of potential commercial applications.
“We are modestly budgeted at about $100 million,” Madsen said. “But we leverage about $1 billion of our DoD partner funding to the prototyping phase, as well as about $20 billion in venture capital funding.”
Nakia Melecio, ATDC’s senior startup and deep tech catalyst, facilitated the event and summed up the importance of the visit.
“More and more government, academia, and commercial firms are working together [to solve problems,]” he said. “So, this relationship [with DIU] is very important.”
He also reminded attendees, many of whom were new to ATDC, that the organization is available to help.
“If you’re not plugged into ATDC, make sure you get plugged in to ATDC,” he said. “We have our staff here that’s equipped to help you. We’re also here as coaches to provide support to all of you. And we’ll work very closely with the DIU to help you unpack a lot of things you heard today.”
In Georgia, 41 solution submissions have been made to the DIU website, with one prototype contract awarded to a Georgia company, including $87,500 in funding. But the DIU wants to see that grow. This event is a first step in making that happen.