Can this Stanford Professor Turn the Pentagon into a Lean Startup?

turtix/Shutterstock.com

Steve Blank is part of a team teaching a class called "Hacking for Defense" at Stanford University’s engineering school.

Entrepreneurial heavyweight Steve Blank thinks the “lean startup” methodology -- in which new businesses rapidly experiment and gather feedback before executing any plans -- could help solve the nation’s most pressing defense problems.

Blank, who developed the Lean Launchpad course taught at Stanford University, wants to bridge the geographic and cultural gap between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon. This spring, he and a team of retired military officers plan to teach a class called “Hacking for Defense” at Stanford's engineering school, in which students will focus on challenges volunteered by Defense Department and intelligence community end users.

Students, who apply in teams to work on one of four challenges, will present hypotheses each week to representatives from the defense and intelligence communities, Blank told Nextgov. The idea is to rapidly iterate, pivot and build minimum viable prototypes --  all tenets of the lean startup methodology.

Blank said he thinks some tech-focused students would be more likely to volunteer for national service if there were shorter-term opportunities, other than programs such as AmeriCorps, Teach for America, the Peace Corps or the military’s ROTC.

 “I realized, what if we went to the DOD or the intelligence community and said, ‘Give us some problems and in fact, we could have the best and brightest students working on [them] and we could give you prototypes in eight weeks,'" he said. 

This is one of many recent attempts to marry Silicon Valley’s culture of experimentation and risk taking with DOD. Last year, for instance, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the Pentagon planned to open an outpost in Silicon Valley to tap into the region’s concentration of technology talent.

“Hacking for Defense” challenges include building a wearable system that would let divers monitor their physiological condition while underwater; creating virtual assistance to help foreign national military and law enforcement “counter improvised threats"; and designing an app for communication between international organizations, such as the United Nations, federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as state and local or civilian populations, especially during disaster response.

“With ISIS moving at a speed that looks like a blur to us . . . there’s a continuous disruption going on where we’re not actually implementing continuous innovation,” Blank said. The defense and intelligence communities have “islands of innovation,” but they lack a “process to actually innovate and deploy . . . at speed."

Potential terrorists are also comfortable using “Telegram, Instagram, Facebook, Skype, FaceTime, YouTube, wikis, IM/chat. Targeting, assessments, technology, recipes and tactics [that] all flow at the speed of a Lean Startup,” he wrote in a blog post. “They can crowdsource designs, find components through eBay, fund through PayPal, train using virtual worlds and refine tactics, techniques and procedures using massive online gaming. All while we’re still writing a Request for a Proposal from within the U.S. government procurement and acquisition channels.”

Applications designed in the class could be viable in the private sector, too, Blank said -- the safety product for divers, for instance -- though he insists all development in the class is open source and public.

Pete Newell, a retired colonel who served as director of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and who is also part of the teaching team, told Nextgov military end users can actually adopt the solutions they see in student presentations or opt to work with those students through formal contracts later or offer job opportunities.

“The transition out of the class could be as simple as the [military] sponsor [saying], ‘You four students . . . we want to fly you to whatever base and we want you to expand your discussion with more users and develop it further,’” Newell said.

The class also aims to “foster the idea that the government does provide a [business] opportunity for entrepreneurs, from a commercial standpoint.”

Joe Felter, also a retired colonel and part of Blank's team, said he eventually hopes to scale the program to other universities, though Hacking for Defense is the first iteration of an experiment. He called the class a “tech ROTC,” noting, “there should be a wider array of options” for students who want to work on DOD technology programs.  

Former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry plans to advise the class, which runs between March 29 and May 31. Accepted students are expected to invest at least 15-20 hours a week.

(Image via /Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.