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Defense Entrepreneurs Tell Innovation Board that Collaboration is a ‘Linchpin’

Defense Entrepreneurs Board members say the DOD workforce and international security will benefit from more cooperation across organizations.

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Defense Innovation Board chair Michael R. Bloomberg speaks at the board’s fall meeting at the Pentagon, on Oct. 17, 2022.
Defense Innovation Board chair Michael R. Bloomberg speaks at the board’s fall meeting at the Pentagon on Oct. 17, 2022. Photo Credit: Lisa Ferdinando/DOD

Members of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF) joined the Defense Innovation Board (DIB) meeting last week to offer perspective on cross-national partnerships, innovation and interagency collaboration. Working with partners, they said, will help the Defense Department innovate and improve the defense community’s 

“Partnerships are seen as a linchpin in the US Department of Defense and strategy deterrence as outlined in the 2022 National Security Strategy, yet little capacity and few initiatives exist in terms of fostering cross-national camaraderie via cultural intelligence and atmospherics, and these socio-economic human factors have taken a backseat to remain relevant and competitive,” Evanna Hu, CEO and partner at Omelas and DEF board member, said during the meeting.  

Centering the Workforce

Meghan Metzger, CEO of Dcode and DEF board member, gave recommendations to DIB on how to develop a more innovative DOD workforce. She suggested stronger promotion pathways for workers who develop unique skillsets, so that the skills they learn are not wasted. The workforce, she said, needs to be a core component of innovation at DOD and should be encouraged to grow in their positions.

“A recommendation would be to look at the training and the upskilling of these careers that are in critical path,” she suggested. “How can we upskill them the technology to a level where they know how to do their jobs differently?”

Metzger also suggested that agencies limit their mindsets away from risk aversion to be better enabled to help skilled employees experiment with new technologies or methods to drive innovation. Senior leaders weren’t set up to manage IT programs or employees, but now “almost everything is an IT program” and leaders need to adjust to this new reality.

She also said that government needs to “bridge the skill gap, the pay gap, so that we can be on par, attract talent that might not have come to the organization otherwise, especially in those technical pathways, like data science and software development, and then allow for these types of roles to more easily and fluidly go back out into industry and come back in so that they can keep their knowledge fresh, learn and understand the commercial sector.” 

Michael Madrid, director of strategic relationships at Starfish Space and DEF board member, said that innovation comes naturally to employees. He added that there is less of a need to incentivize those who push boundaries than it is to remove barriers and punishments if they fail in innovation.  

“People who are naturally innovative or innovators don’t need a lot of positive reinforcement. We’ve seen programs throughout the years that offer cash bonuses for innovative ideas are trying to reward people for doing innovative things,” Madrid said. “But I think if you have that bug, you’re dying to go do it yourself. And you actually just need things to get out of your way.” 

Innovation for the Ukraine Battlefield

The war in Ukraine was a focus of the meeting and the board members spoke about how innovation is needed if weapons development is expected to keep up with the state of progress on the battlefield.  

“Ukraine’s in development mode, always. We’re in procurement mode, we’re trying to help them win the war with yesterday’s technology, which Russia has already responded to, and countered,” board member Will Roper said. “I would argue there’s likely never been a war in history that’s been won with the equipment that was possessed on day one.” 

Additionally, Roper noted the issue of finding cost-effective ways to supply Ukrainians in their war effort. Instead of placing more burdens on supply chains, Roper said DOD should be “going back to the drawing board with our innovators and figuring out what new systems can help them win.” 

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