The Georgia Institute of Technology will begin offering a course in 2019 designed to give students opportunities to study — and potentially solve — challenges from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and related intelligence agencies.
The semester-long Hacking for Defense (H4D) course was created and first launched at Stanford University in 2016 by retired U.S. Army Col. Pete Newell, retired Special Forces and Foreign Area Officer Joe Felter; Tom Byers, director of the Stanford Technology Ventures program; and Steve Blank, a retired serial entrepreneur and the creator of the Lean Startup movement.
At the Institute, the course will be taught by Keith McGreggor, director of VentureLab, a program in Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute that helps faculty and students create startups based on Tech research. Co-teaching the class with him will be Lawrence Rubin, associate professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.
As designed, students will be given a current real problem intelligence or defense agencies face and work on that challenge for the entire semester to validate the problem and work to solve it, Newell said.
“Technology is continually changing and by creating this mixing bowl in a university, you’re in an ideal place for bringing government problems to the problem-solvers and energizing young people into doing something that’s impactful,” said Newell, who is managing partner of BMNT.
BMNT’s nonprofit arm, Hacking for Defense Inc. (H4Di), oversees the H4D program.
H4D addresses four necessary components to help federal agencies be more innovative, said Newell, who is former director of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force.
For the federal sponsors themselves, they get world-class market research to tackle problems at a faster pace than anywhere else and engage with potential employees or future collaborators by creating an innovation network pipeline.
Students get to work on a real challenge and learn by creating a case study of a real problem, he said.
For private industry, it gives them an early look at the problems government agencies are looking to solve — which often mirror some of the same issues business is trying to address.
Finally, universities such as Georgia Tech, are increasingly looking to deliver cutting-edge education to students that gives them experience in building innovative and disruptive solutions beyond basic research.
That matches the entrepreneurship experience that Tech wants all of its students to have, McGreggor said.
“We’re trying to create an armada of entrepreneurial students and we want every student at Georgia Tech to have that entrepreneurial experience before they graduate,” McGreggor said. “Hacking for Defense is going to be different in that participating students won’t be coming up with a startup idea; these defense and intelligence agencies will meet with us with the problems they want us to figure out. It’s an opportunity for our students to think about solving a different kind of problem.”
As part of the rollout and expansion of the program to Tech and other organizations, H4Di was on campus Sept. 20 and 21 to train about 60 people from across the country who will be teaching H4D courses on the methodology behind it.
“The defense and national security challenges we’re seeing are evolving at a pace we’ve never seen before in our history and to tackle these issues, we have to connect DoD to cultures of innovation and those are largely housed in academia and the venture community,” said Max Weintraub who works to form collaborative relationships between the DoD and universities as the H4D program manager at the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator, the DoD program office that sponsors H4D at Georgia Tech and other leading universities. “We’re excited that Georgia Tech is on the list.”
Tech will join a number of top schools already teaching the class, that, in addition to Stanford, include: Columbia University, the University of Southern California, Georgetown University, the University of Virginia, and the United States Air Force Academy.
What makes Tech an attractive choice is Atlanta’s solid base of entrepreneurial activity, Georgia’s manufacturing and industrial capacity, the number of military installations and government labs in the state and its Southeast neighbors, and the federal research dollars the Institute attracts.
“It’s easy to draw a circle around Georgia Tech right there in the Southeast as being in the epicenter of a great entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Newell said.
Since the original launch, H4D has led to nine startup companies being formed, including Capella Space, a company that makes low-orbit satellites with a synthetic aperture radar technology that takes quality images regardless of clouds, light or other atmospheric conditions.
But while some students may ultimately form their own companies, Newell stressed that is not the core goal.
“We’re giving them the ability to engage with the government to work on a real problem to gain real-world experience,” Newell said. “They get to develop the critical problem-solving skillsets that will be most in demand in the future.”