Rising out of the Crisis: Where to Find New Markets and Customers

The pandemic has upended the business models of most startups and existing companies. As the economy reopens companies are finding that customers may have disappeared or that their spending behavior has changed. Suppliers are going out of business or requiring cash-up-front terms. Accounts receivables are stretching way out. Revenue models and forecasts are no longer valid.

In sum, whatever business model you had at the beginning of the year may be obsolete.

While there’s agreement that companies need to adapt to changing markets, rapidly find new markets, new customers and new revenue models, the question is how? What tools and methods can a C-suite team use to do so?

While the Lean Startup was built with Business Model Canvas, Customer Development and Agile Engineering, there’s an additional tool — the Market Opportunity Navigator — that can help entrepreneurs discover new opportunities.

Here’s how.

Companies have rapidly responded to Pandemic Needs
When COVID-19 first emerged established companies rapidly pivoted. Some focused on remote work, others offered new ways to learn online. Swiss smart flooring startup Technis now helps supermarkets regulate the flow of shoppers. Large companies like GM, Ford and Rolls-Royce began to produce ventilators. Companies in cosmetics and perfume production pivoted their production lines as well. With ethanol and glycerin on hand and equipment required to fill bottles, French luxury giant LVMH has started to produce sanitizer – just like gin and whiskey distilleries across the US and UK have done.

Although the large firms made the headlines, startups also pivoted. For instance, Italian additive manufacturing startup Isinnova used its 3D-printing equipment to produce a crucial valve for oxygen masks. New York-based startup Katena Oncology discovered that a cancer detection tool under development could be adapted to test for coronavirus..

Capture opportunities by building on or repurposing your start-up’s abilities
In these examples CEOs instinctually figured out, 1)  their core , and 2)  market needs where their competencies/abilities could be used.

Rather than running on instinct, the Market Opportunity Navigator can help CEOs figure out their next moves in this confusing recovery. It can provide a big-picture perspective to find different potential markets for your company’s competencies/abilities. This is the first step before you zoom in and design the business model, engage in focused customer development or test your minimal viable products.

Take the example of Abionic, a nanotech startup.

Abionic: pivoting a sepsis test to fight COVID-19
Abionic’s tests can detect allergies, cardiovascular diseases, sepsis and other diseases in 5 minutes. As the pandemic hit, the company’s leaders wondered how their tests could be used in the fight against COVID-19. Using the Market Opportunity Navigator, Abionic realized that their test could diagnose sepsis up to 72 hours before a septic shock would occur in COVID-19 patients.

One of the worksheets below from the Market Opportunity Navigator provides a systematic view of Abionic’s market discovery process: The upper part of the worksheet shows Abionic’s technological assets and the lower part shows how these abilities can be used different market opportunities.

You can download the Market Opportunity Navigator and its free worksheets here.

By looking at their technological abilities, especially in the early detection of sepsis, and clinical data showing that septic shock is one of the key complications of a coronavirus infection, Abionic identified a new market opportunity to help patients suffering from COVID-19. Their CEO Nicolas Durand explains: “If doctors are able to diagnose sepsis up to 72 hours before a septic shock would occur in COVID-19 patients they can prescribe an antibiotic therapy much earlier, thereby potentially saving the lives of millions. In order to test this application of our technology, we deployed our machines at the Hospital at the University of Geneva and see promising results!”

Beyond medical needs: Discovering new opportunities with the Market Opportunity Navigator
Abionic and other companies were able to act fast, as they already possessed technological abilities that, with limited adjustments, could be pivoted or repurposed to the newly identified COVID-19 opportunities.

Yet, because the crisis and recovery will create a “new normal,” additional opportunities will emerge that wait to be discovered by startups and existing companies. Think about looking beyond the immediate opportunities of existing customers and markets, and take a mid- to long-term view on how you can proactively identify new and emerging market opportunities. The three worksheets of the Market Opportunity Navigator help you to:

  1. Identify new market opportunities stemming from your technology or abilities
  2. Reveal the most attractive domain(s) by evaluating the potential and challenges of each option
  3. Prioritize market opportunities smartly to set the boundaries for your lean experimentations

Lessons Learned

  • The COVID-19 crisis and recovery creates fundamental shifts in our economies and societies, and a “new normal” is emerging
  • Winners in this new normal will be able to quickly understand
    • what are their company’s core competencies/abilities, and
    • the new market needs where their competencies/abilities could be used
  • The Market Opportunity Navigator is a framework for this identification process
    • Worksheets and supporting material can be downloaded at wheretoplay.co

The Coming Chip Wars

A version of this article appeared in War on the Rocks.

 

Controlling advanced chip manufacturing in the 21st century may well prove to be like controlling the oil supply in the 20th. The country that controls this manufacturing can throttle the military and economic power of others.

The United States just did this to China by limiting Huawei’s ability to outsource its in-house chip designs for manufacture by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), a Taiwanese chip foundry. If negotiations fail, China may respond and escalate, via one of many agile strategic responses short of war, perhaps succeeding in coercing the foundry to stop making chips for American companies – turning the tables on the United States.

Short of war, there would be no obvious way to get those foundries back. Without them, the U.S. defense and consumer electronics industries will be set back at least five years — and because China has its own advanced chip foundries, it could become the world leader in technology for the next decade or more.

Here’s why.  And how they may do it.

And why the world just got a lot more dangerous.


There are two types of companies in the chip industry.

  1. Companies like Intel, Samsung, SK Hynix and Micron design and make their own products (microprocessors and memory chips) in factories that they own
  2. There are also foundries, which fabricate chips designed by consumer and military customers; TSMC in Taiwan is the largest of these in the world

The chips that TSMC makes are found in almost everything: smartphones (i.e. Apple iPhones), high-performance computing platforms, PC’s, tablets, servers, base stations and game consoles, Internet-connected devices like smart wearables, digital consumer electronics, cars, and almost every weapon system built in the 21st century. Around 60% of the chips TSMC makes are for American companies.

Background
In 2012, a bipartisan committee of the U.S. House of Representatives investigated whether the Chinese company Huawei had put backdoors into its equipment that enabled it to spy on data therein. The committee found that Huawei could not or would not explain its relationship with the Chinese government and did not comply with U.S. laws, The report recommended that no government or contractor systems include Huawei systems. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security added Huawei to its Entity List, effectively limiting the sale or transfer of American technology to the company, (though a series of licenses have been granted to waive the restrictions in some cases.)

This month, the Commerce Department required overseas semiconductor firms that use American technology and equipment to apply for a license before selling to Huawei. The order was targeted at TSMC, which is Huawei’s main supplier of advanced chips; without these, Huawei will be at a competitive disadvantage against Apple or Samsung in the smartphone industry, and against Cisco and others in the market for network equipment. (Some analysts have pointed out the order has potential loopholes.) Next up, it’s likely Washington will prohibit sales to China of the equipment used to make chips, which comes from companies like Applied Materials, KLA and Lam.

TSMC was forced to choose sides and picked the U.S. – For Now
In May 2020 TSMC announced it was going to build a $12 billion foundry in Arizona to make some of its most advanced chips. Foundries take at least three years to build and the most expensive factories on earth. Construction on TSMC’s facility is planned to start in 2021, but actual chip production will not start until 2024.

But while the TSMC announcement is welcome, if and when the Arizona foundry is built, it will only be able to make about a quarter of the chip production of TMSC’s largest semiconductor fabrication plants and would amount to just 3 percent of the manufacturing capability that TSMC currently operates in Taiwan. There they have four major manufacturing sites, called GigaFabs, each of which have 6 or 7 fabs producing thirteen million wafers a year. Compare that to the quarter million wafers they intend to produce in the U.S. in 2024. So if the United State lost TSMC in China, one new American plant would not make up the difference in capacity.

China’s Semiconductor Industry
A decade ago, China recognized that its initial success as the world’s low-cost factory was going to run its course. As the cost of Chinese labor increased, other countries like Vietnam could fill that role. As a result, China needed to build more advanced and sophisticated products on par with the United States. However, most of these products required custom chips — and China lacked the domestic manufacturing capability to make them. China uses 61 percent of the world’s chips in products for both its domestic and export markets, importing around $310 billion worth in 2018. China recognized that its inability to manufacture the most advanced chips was a strategic Achilles Heel.

China devised two plans to solve these problems. The first, the Made in China 2025 plan, is the country’s roadmap and financing vehicle to update China’s manufacturing base from making low-tech products to rapidly developing ten high-tech industries including electric cars, next-generation computing, telecommunications, robotics, artificial intelligence, and advanced chips. The goal is to reduce China’s dependence on foreign technology and promote Chinese high-tech companies globally. In addition, to encourage Chinese high-tech companies to go public in China rather than the United States, the Chinese government set up its own version of the Nasdaq called the STAR market (Shanghai Stock Exchange Science and Technology Innovation Board).

China’s second plan is the National Integrated Circuit Plan, China’s roadmap for building an indigenous semiconductor industry and accelerating chip manufacturing. The goal is to meet its local chip demand by 2030.

Make no mistake, these are not government pronouncements that don’t end up going anywhere. This is a massive national effort. China is spending over a hundred billion dollars to become a world leader in developing their semiconductor industry. The China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund or Big Fundhas raised $51 billion – $22 billion in 2014 and another $29 billion in 2019. China has used the capital to start 70+ projects in the semiconductor industry (such as building fabs and foundries, acquiring foreign companies, and starting joint ventures) and have gone from zero to making 16% of the world’s chips, though today their quality is low. Going forward, China plans to start investing in chip design software, advanced materials, and semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

How Do the Chinese View Our Actions?
China believes that this is their century and sees American actions as designed to hold China back from its proper place in the world. Given the importance of controlling the supply of advanced chip manufacturing, China would be forced to respond if the United States cut off their access to this supply.

The question is whether China will view the action against Huawei as sanctions against a single company or a portent of further action against China’s access to advanced chips.

What Has China Learned From Our Prior Actions?
In the 21st century the U.S. has blinked even when its own interests were at stake. From the perspective of some China policymakers, America is exhausted from endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and will not fight again. They see that the United States is divided politically, distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic and unlikely to risk American lives for something as abstract as a chip factory.

Paper protests
When China has acted aggressively over the past couple of decades, it has seen that the American response has largely been paper protests. In 2012 China occupied the Scarborough Shoal and took control of it from the Philippines. As China was not ready to militarily confront the U.S. at the time, in hindsight the U.S. could have parked a carrier strike group over those shoals and likely prevented their plans for military construction. Instead, Washington blinked and did nothing but send a nasty note.

Today, the Spratly Islands have new Chinese bases bristling with surface-to-air missiles, cruise missiles and fighter jets, which has changed the calculus for a war in the western Pacific. Any attempt by the United States to control the air space in the area will face serious opposition and heavy losses. What was previously an uncontested American “lake” is now contested by China.

Up until this week Hong Kong, while part of China, was a democracy with guarantees of freedom of speech, assembly and the press. China recently tore up that agreement and is preparing to impose the same draconian limits on speech, assembly and press that muzzle the rest of China. There’s not much the U.S. can do other than express concerns and perhaps remove Hong Kong’s special trade status. But China doesn’t care. They’ve already factored the American response into their move and decided it was worth it, with the cynical calculation that any U.S. response will make Hong Kong poorer, and that any business Hong Kong loses will mostly end up in other parts of China. And a poorer Hong Kong will be punishment to its citizens for standing up for the rights they had been promised.

The day after China’s move on Hong Kong, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang left out the word “peaceful” in referring to Beijing’s desire to “reunify” with Chinese-claimed Taiwan, an apparent policy change.

The lack of an effective American response to these events has shown Chinese leadership the unwillingness of America to forcefully engage in Asian affairs. This will embolden China’s next move.

China’s Goals and Options
To respond to the United States cutting off Huawei’s access to Taiwan’s most advanced chip foundries, the Chinese government is likely thinking through their next moves. Their planning starts with they want to accomplish. It may look something like this in the preferred order.

  1. Return to the Status Quo – Restore Huawei’s Access to TSMC fabs to secure a steady supply of chips
  2. Don’t let the restrictions escalate
  3. Turn the Tables – Convince TSMC/Taiwan to allow China to have sole access to TSMC
  4. Kick Over the Table – Ensure that the TSMC fabs can’t be used by anyone

China’s Options
So how would China achieve these goals?

China may wish to avoid any escalation perhaps by accepting the American restrictions as they currently are with a promise that they will go no further.  This return to the status quo, with a restoration of Huawei’s access to TSMC’s foundry, may simply require negotiating some form of trade deal or agreeing to restrictions on the sale of Huawei networking gear (34% of their revenue). This kind of deal would let the Huawei consumer and enterprise businesses (66% of their revenue) survive and thrive. However, it requires the Chinese to back down. And they may have decided that the Rubicon has been crossed.

If China doesn’t negotiate but retaliates, the danger is that the United States ups the ante further by prohibiting TSMC from working with more Chinese firms, and/or bans the sale of the equipment used to build chips to any company in China. Such escalation may lead China to perceive that the U.S. actions are not a dispute about Huawei, but a salvo in a wider economic war.

If it gets to that point, China’s plans no longer are how to negotiate with the U.S. but how to force TSMC to do its bidding. And as TSMC is in Taiwan, in what China claims is a province of China, things can get interesting.

The most obvious option is to simply carry out the threat the Chinese government has made since 1949: that there is only one China, and Taiwan is a rebellious province, and that they will reunify China, by force if necessary. An invasion or blockade of Taiwan would give Chinese hardliners a reason to try out all their new military equipment, while distracting the masses from the pandemic economic downturn. This option has the highest risk of provoking an American military response, and while possible it’s extremely unlikely. While these more aggressive scenarios might seem implausible, China’s behavior has become more aggressive and more risk-tolerant as the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in Wuhan, roils the world.

China can achieve their immediate goals of 3 and 4 above and weaken Taiwan without an outright invasion.

One option is a major disinformation campaign against TSMC and the United States that would make current influence campaigns emanating from China pale in comparison. This would emphasize that the U.S. is the aggressor, illegally waging economic war against China. It would announce that since Taiwan is a province of China, China has the right to restrict TSMC sales to the U.S. and that China will enforce an embargo of any TSMC sales to American-affiliated companies.

This could be coupled with an equally massive disinformation campaign to the Taiwanese people, pointing out to them that the United States won’t go to war over a semiconductor company, and that China’s requestsare fair and reasonable. (How effective a disinformation campaign would be is up for debate, given that Chinese campaigns in Taiwan’s January elections did not result in the election of China’s preferred candidate.) China could offer a no-invasion pledge in exchange, while reminding the Taiwanese government what they already know: regardless of promises the United States can’t defend them. Even if the United States attempted to intervene, there is a serious debate unfolding about how useful legacy American platforms – especially carriers – would be in a shooting war with China.

There’s a high probability Taiwan will still refuse despite all of this, so China would then ratchet up the pressure.

China might then start some type of trade war with Taiwan to ensure access, following the playbook Beijing used to coerce Korea over Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) or Australia over its recent decision to lead a call for investigating the origins of the novel coronavirus. On the more extreme end, these Taiwanese chip foundries might be subject to an aggressive campaign of sabotage.

Finally, they could nationalize TSMC’s two less advanced fabs in mainland China. Next, if there’s no agreement, China could launch a precision guided missile strike against one of the older, less advanced TMSC fabs in Taiwan to send a message they’re serious.  They could announce they’ll destroy one foundry each week until TMSC agrees to sell only to China. Even if they destroy all the TSMC foundries in Taiwan it will still be a net win for China. It’s highly unlikely Taiwan would go to war with China over this. The end result would be that U.S. military and consumer technology would have no advanced foundries, but China would.

What Would the United States Do?
Would the United States go to war with China over chips? The loss of TSMC would mean we’d be rapidly scrambling to find alternate sources. We could turn to Intel to restart their foundry business or turn to Samsung or even Global Foundries. But the transition and recovery would take at least three to five years if not more and tens of billions of dollars.  In the meantime, we’d have second-tier status in technology.

The outcome could depend on the timing of Chinese actions.

When Might China Take Action?

An October Surprise – Before the 2020 election
The current U.S  administration may not want to start a war over a chip factory before the 2020 presidential election, but it is unpredictable enough that a campaign season focused on China policy could change the calculus.

After the 2020 election
If the presidency changes hands, the incoming administration might de-escalate and reverse original restrictions, but a lot can happen between now and January 2021.

A Trump administration in its second term and no longer worrying about reelection might reverse the ruling in exchange for a better trade deal.

Downside: Lots of economic uncertainty for the next seven months exacerbating China’s pandemic recovery. More immediate action might be required.

Lessons Learned

  • The dispute over Huawei’s access to TSMC has highlighted how vulnerable American industry is to the loss of its sole supply of advanced chips.
  • If the matter cannot be solved by negotiation, China may perceive the restrictions as economic warfare and rapidly escalate, potentially threatening Taiwan
  • It is not at all clear that Washington has thought through the consequences of its actions here, or that the current administration has considered chip supply as part of a wider supply chain security and national industrial policy.
  • Given that China has more positive options than the United States, it is surely time for those in charge to consider where this might lead

Hacking for Defense @ Stanford 2020 Lesson Learned Presentations

We just finished our 5th annual Hacking for Defense class at Stanford.

What a year.

At the end of the quarter each of the eight teams give a final “Lessons Learned” presentation. Unlike traditional demo days or Shark Tanks which are, “here’s how smart I am, please give me money,” a Lessons Learned presentation tells the teams’ stories of a 10-week journey of hard-won learning and discovery. For all the teams in a normal year it’s a roller coaster narrative of what happens when you discover that everything you thought you knew on day one was wrong and how they eventually got it right.

But this year? This year was something different. 32 students were scattered across the globe and given a seemingly impossible assignment-  they had 10 weeks to understand and then solve a real Dept of Defense problem – by interviewing 100 beneficiaries, stakeholders, requirements writers, et al while simultaneously building a series of minimal viable products – all while never leaving their room.

Watching each of the teams present I was left with wonder and awe about what they accomplished

Here’s how they did it and what they delivered.


Our keynote speaker for this last class was ex Secretary of Defense General Jim Mattis who gave an inspiring talk about service to the nation.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

If you can’t see the four videos of General Mattis click here for the entire talk.

How Do You Get Out of the Building When You Can’t Get Out of the Building?
This year the teams had to overcome two extraordinary pandemic-created hurdles. First, most of the students were sequestering off campus and were scattered across 24 time zones. Each team of four students who would have spent the quarter working collaboratively in-person, instead were never once physically in the same room or location. Second, this class – which is built on the idea of interviewing customers/beneficiaries and stakeholders in person – now had to do all their customer discovery via a computer screen. At first this seemed to be a fatal stake through the heart of the class. How on earth would customer interviews work via video?

But we were in for two surprises. First, the students rose to the occasion, and in spite of time and physical distance, every one of them came together and acted as a unified team. Second, doing customer discovery via video actually increased the number of interviews the students were able to do each week. The eight teams spoke to over 945 beneficiaries, stakeholders, requirements writers, program managers, warfighters, legal, security, customers, etc.

A good number of the people the students needed to talk to were sheltering at home, and they weren’t surrounded by gatekeepers. While the students missed the context of standing on a navy ship or visiting a drone control station, or watching someone try their app or hardware, the teaching teams’ assessment was that remote interviews were more than an adequate substitute.

We Changed The Class Format
Going remotely we made two major changes to the class. Previously, each of the eight teams presented a weekly ten-minute summary of; here’s what we thought, here’s what we did, here’s what we found, here’s what we’re going to do next week.  While we kept that cadence it was too exhausting for all the other teams to stare at their screen watching every other team present. So we split the class in half – four teams went into Zoom breakout rooms where they met with a peer-team to discuss common issues. The remaining four were in the main Zoom classroom; one presenting as three watched and listened to the instructor comments, critiques and suggestions. We rotated the teams through the main room and breakout sessions.

The second change was the addition of guest speakers. In the past, I viewed guest speakers as time filler/entertainment that detracted from the limited in-class time we needed to listen to and coach our students. But this year we realized that our students had been staring at their screens all day and it was going to fry their heads. They deserved some entertainment/distraction. But in true Hacking for Defense practice we were going to deliver it in the form of edification and inspiration. Joe Felter and I got out our rolodex’s and invited ten distinguished guest speakers. Their talks to this year’s Hacking for Defense class can be seen here.

Lessons Learned Presentation Format
Each of the eight teams presented a 2-minute video to provide context about their problem. This was followed by an 8-minute slide presentation describing their customer discovery journey over the 10-weeks. All the teams used the Mission Model Canvas, (videos here) Customer Development and Agile Engineering to build Minimal Viable Products, but all of their journeys were unique.

By the end the class all of the teams realized that the problem as given by the sponsor had morphed into something bigger, deeper and much more interesting.

All the presentations are worth a watch.

Team Omniscient – An Unclassified Imaging Analyst Workbench

If you can’t see the Omniscient 2-minute video click here

If you can’t see the video of the Omniscient team presenting click here

If you can’t see the Omniscient slides click here

 Mission-Driven Entrepreneurship
This class is part of a bigger idea – Mission-Driven Entrepreneurship. Instead of students or faculty coming in with their own ideas — we now have them working on societal problems, whether they’re problems for the State Department or the Department of Defense, or non-profits/NGOs, or for the City of Oakland or for energy or the environment, or for anything they’re passionate about. And the trick is we use the same Lean LaunchPad / I-Corps curriculum — and kept the same class structure – experiential, hands-on, driven this time by a mission-model not a business model. (The National Science Foundation, National Security Agency and the Common Mission Project have helped promote the expansion of the methodology worldwide.)

Mission-driven entrepreneurship is the answer to students who say, “I want to give back. I want to make my community, country or world a better place, while solving some of the toughest problems.”

Team Protocol OneEnsuring JTAC to Pilot Communication

If you can’t see the Protocol One 2-minute video click here

If you can’t see the video of the Protocol One team presenting click here

If you can’t see the Protocol One slides click here

It Started with an Idea
Hacking for Defense has its origins in the Lean LaunchPad class I first taught at Stanford in 2011. I observed that teaching case studies and/or how to write a business plan as a capstone entrepreneurship class didn’t match the hands-on chaos of a startup. And that there was no entrepreneurship class that combined experiential learning with the Lean methodology. Our goal was to teach both theory and practice.

The same year we started the class, it was adopted by the National Science Foundation to train Principal Investigators who wanted to get a federal grant for commercializing their science (an SBIR grant.) The NSF observed, “The class is the scientific method for entrepreneurship. Scientists understand hypothesis testing” and relabeled the class as the NSF I-Corps (Innovation Corps). The class is now taught in 9 regional locations supporting 98 universities and has trained over 1500 science teams. It was adopted by the National Institutes of Health as I-Corps at NIH in 2014 and at the National Security Agency in 2015.

Team SeaWatch Maritime Security in the South China Sea

If you can’t see the SeaWatch 2-minute video click here

If you can’t see the video of the SeaWatch team presenting click here

If you can’t see the SeaWatch slides click here

Origins of Hacking For Defense
In 2016, brainstorming with Pete Newell of BMNT and Joe Felter at Stanford we observed that students in our research universities had little connection to the problems their government was trying to solve or the larger issues civil society were grappling with. Wondering how we could get students engaged, we realized the same Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps class would provide a framework to do so. That year we launched both Hacking for Defense and Hacking for Diplomacy (with Professor Jeremy Weinstein and the State Department) at Stanford.

Team TimeFlies – Automating Air Force aircrew scheduling

If you can’t see the TimeFlies 2-minute video click here

If you can’t see the video of the TimeFlies team presenting click here

If you can’t see the TimeFlies slides click here

Goals for the Hacking for Defense Class
Our primary goal was to teach students Lean Innovation while they engaged in a national public service. Today if college students want to give back to their country they think of Teach for America, the Peace Corps, or Americorps or perhaps the US Digital Service or the GSA’s 18F. Few consider opportunities to make the world safer with the Department of Defense, Intelligence Community or other government agencies.

Next, we wanted the students to learn about the nation’s threats and security challenges while working with innovators inside the DoD and Intelligence Community. And while doing so, teach our sponsors (the innovators inside the Department of Defense (DOD) and Intelligence Community (IC)) that there is a methodology that can help them understand and better respond to rapidly evolving asymmetric threats. That if we could get teams to rapidly discover the real problems in the field using Lean methods, and only then articulate the requirements to solve them, could defense acquisition programs operate at speed and urgency and deliver timely and needed solutions.

Finally, we wanted to familiarize students about the military as a profession, its expertise, and its proper role in society. And conversely show our sponsors in the Department of Defense and Intelligence community that civilian students can make a meaningful contribution to problem understanding and rapid prototyping of solutions to real-world problems.

Team AV Combinator –  Autonomous Vehicle Safety Standards

If you can’t see the AV Combinator 2-minute video click here

If you can’t see the video of the AV Combinator team presenting click here

If you can’t see the AV Combinator slides click here

Mission-driven in 35 Universities
What started as a class is now a movement.

Hacking for Defense is offered in over 35 universities, but quickly following, Orin Herskowitz started Hacking for Energy at Columbia, Steve Weinstein started Hacking for Impact (Non-Profits) and Hacking for Local (Oakland) at Berkeley. Hacking for Conservation and Development at Duke followed. Steve Weinstein subsequently spun out versions of Hacking for Oceans at both Scripps and UC Santa Cruz.

And to help businesses recover from the pandemic the teaching team will be offering a Hacking For Recovery class this summer.

Team Anthro Energy next generation lightweight flexible batteries

If you can’t see the Anthro Energy 2-minute video click here

If you can’t see the video of the Anthro Energy team presenting click here

If you can’t see the Anthro Energy slides click here

Team HelmsmanNavigating in GPS denied areas

If you can’t see the Helmsman 2-minute video click her

If you can’t see the video of the Helmsman team presenting click here

If you can’t see the Helmsman slides click here

Team Election Watch Open Source Tool to Track Political Influence Campaigns

If you can’t see the Election Watch 2-minute video click here

If you can’t see the Election Watch slides click here

What’s Next for These Teams?
When they graduate, the Stanford students on these teams have the pick of jobs in startups, companies and consulting firms. Recognizing the ability of these teams to produce real results, 38 members of the venture and private equity community dialed in to these presentations. Every year they fund several teams as they launch companies. This year a record 6 of the 8 teams (Anthro Energy, AV Combinator, Election Watch, Helmsman, Omniscient and Seawatch) have decided to continue with their projects to build them into dual-use companies – selling both to the Dept of Defense and commercial businesses.) Most are applying to H4X Labs, an accelerator focused on building dual-use companies.

Student Feedback
While Stanford does a formal survey of student reviews of the class, this year we wanted more granular data on how remote learning affected their class experience.

While we had heard anecdotal stories about how the class affected the students perceptions of the Department of Defense we now had first hand evidence. The same was true for the life-changing experience of actually doing customer discovery with 100 people. The results reinforced our belief that the class, scaling across the county was helping to bridge the civilian/military divide while teaching students a set of skills that will last a lifetime.

Student feedback on the class is here

It Takes a Village
While I authored this blog post, this class is a team project. The teaching team consisted of myself and:

  • Pete Newell retired Army Colonel and ex Director of the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force and CEO of BMNT.
  • Joe Felter retired Army Colonel and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for South Asia, Southeast Asia, and Oceania
  • Steve Weinstein 30-year veteran of Silicon Valley technology companies and Hollywood media companies.  Steve was CEO of MovieLabs the joint R&D lab of all the major motion picture studios. He runs H4X Labs.
  • Tom Bedecarré the founder and CEO of AKQA, the leading digital advertising agency.
  • Jeff Decker a Stanford social science researcher. Jeff served in the U.S. Army as a special operations light infantry squad leader in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our teaching assistants this year were Nate Simon and Sam Lisbonne both past graduates of Hacking for Defense, and Valeria RinconA special thanks to the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) and Rich Carlin and the Office of Naval Research for supporting the program at Stanford and across the country as well Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. And our course advisor – Tom Byers, Professor of Engineering and Faculty Director, STVP.

We were lucky to get a team of mentors (VC’s and entrepreneurs) who selflessly volunteered their time to help coach the teams. Thanks to Todd Basche, Teresa Briggs, Rachel Costello, Gus Hernandez, Rafi Holtzman, Katie Tobin, Robert Locke, Kevin Ray, Eric Schrader, Mark Rosekind, Don Peppers, Nini Moorhead, Daniel Bardenstein.

We were privileged to have the support of an extraordinary all volunteer team of professional senior military officers representing all branches of service attending fellowship programs at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and Asia Pacific Research Center (APARC) at the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) as well as from the Defense Innovation Unit. These included COL Smith-Heys, COL Liebreich and LTC Campbell – Army, CAPT Sharman, CAPT Romani – Navy, CDR Malzone – Coast Guard, LT COL Lawson, LT COL Hasseltine and LT COL Cook – USMC, LT COL Waters and LT COL Tuzel – Air Force and Mr. Smyth -State Dept.

And of course a big shout-out to our problem sponsors. At In-Q-Tel – Mark Breier/Zig Hampel, U.S. Army – LTC Leo Liebreich, U.S. Air Force – LTC Doug Snead/ MAJ Mike Rose, Joint Artificial Intelligence Center – Joe Murray/MAJ Dan Tadross, Special Operations Command Pacific – MAJ Paul Morton, United States Africa Command – Matt Moore, and from the Office of Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff – MAJ Jeff Budis.

Be sure to check out the other Hacking For Defense classes in universities in the U.S. and the U.K.

Thanks to everyone!

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