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Hacking for Defense (H4D) @ Stanford – Week 1

Posted on by steveblank

We just had our first Hacking for Defense class and the 8 teams have hit the ground running.

They talked to 86 customers/stakeholders before the class started.

(Because of the embedded presentations this post is best viewed on the website.)

Hacking for Defense is a new class in Stanford’s School Engineering, where students learn about the nation’s security challenges by working with innovators inside the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community. The class teaches students the Lean Startup approach to entrepreneurship while they engage in what amounts to national public service.

Hacking for Defense uses the same Lean LaunchPad Methodology adopted by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health and proven successful in Lean LaunchPad and I-Corps classes with 1,000’s of teams worldwide. Over 70 students applied to this new Stanford class and we selected 32 of them in 8 teams.

One of the surprises was the incredible diversity of the student teams – genders, nationalities, expertise. The class attracted students from all departments and from undergrads to post docs.

Before the class started, the instructors worked with the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community to identify 20 problems that the class could tackle. Teams then were free to select one of these problems as their focus for the class.

Most discussion about innovation of defense systems acquisition starts with writing a requirements document. Instead, in this class the student teams and their DOD/IC sponsors will work together to discover the real problems in the field and only then articulate the requirements to solve them and deploy the solutions.

Hacking for Defense: Class 1
We started the first class with the obligatory class overview slides. (Most of the students had already seen them during our pre-class information sessions but the class also had team mentors seeing them for the first time.)

If you can’t see the slides click here

Then it was time for each of the 8 teams to tell us what they did before class started.  Their pre-class homework was to talk to 10 beneficiaries before class started. At the first class each team was asked to present a 5-slide summary of what they learned before class started:

  • Slide 1           Title slide
  • Slide 2           Who’s on the team
  • Slide 3           Minimal Viable Product
  • Slide 4:          Customer Discovery
  • Slide 5:          Mission Model Canvas

As the teams presented the teaching team offered a running commentary of suggestions, insights and direction.

Unlike the other Lean Launchpad / I-Corps classes we’ve taught, we noticed that before we even gave the teams feedback on their findings, we were impressed by the initial level of sophistication most teams brought to deconstructing the sponsors problem.

Here are the first week presentations:

Team aquaLink is working on a problem for divers in the Navy who work 60 to 200 feet underwater for 2-4 hours, but currently have no way to monitor their core temperature, maximum dive pressure, blood pressure and pulse. Knowing all of this would give them early warning of hypothermia or the bends. The goal is to provide a wearable sensor system and apps that will allow divers to monitor their own physiological conditions while underwater.

If you can’t see the presentation click here.

Team Fishreel  is trying to combat “Catfishing”; where someone is impersonating a specific person (i.e. celebrity), a person with a specific interest (i.e. Cake enthusiast) or an organization (i.e. Online book seller) or even an entire service being impersonated, like an online retailer or financial or IT services provider. The team is working with the intelligence community to develop a technique to score how likely it is that a given online persona is who they claim to be, and how that conclusion was reached.

If you can’t see the presentation click here.

Team Guardian is asking how to protect soldiers from cheap, off-the-shelf commercial drones conducting Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. What happens when adversaries learn how to weaponize drones with bullets, explosives, or chemical weapons?

Slides 6 and 7 use the Value Proposition canvas to provide a deeper understanding of product/market fit.

If you can’t see the presentation click here.

Team Skynet is also using drones to to provide ground troops situational awareness. (Almost he inverse of Team Guardian.)

Slides 6 – 8 use the Value Proposition canvas to provide a deeper understanding of product/market fit.

If you can’t see the presentation click here.

Team LTTT (Live Tactical Threat Toolkit) is providing assistance to other countries explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams – the soldiers trying to disarm roadside bombs (Improvised Explosive Devices – IEDs). They’re trying to develop tools that would allow foreign explosive experts to consult with their American counterparts in real time to disarm IED’s, and to document key information about what they have found.

If you can’t see the presentation click here.

Team Narrative Mind is trying to determine how to use data mining, machine learning, and data science to understand, disrupt, and counter adversaries’ use of social media (think ISIS). Current tools do not provide users with a way to understand the meaning within adversary social media content and there is no automated process to disrupt, counter and shape the narrative.

If you can’t see the presentation click here.

Team Capella is launching a constellation of satellites with synthetic aperture radar into space to provide the Navy’s 7th fleet with real-time radar imaging.

If you can’t see the presentation click here.

Pre-Computing the Problem and Solution
As expected, a few teams with great technical assets jumped into building the MVP and were off coding/building hardware. It’s a natural mistake. We’re trying to get students to understand the difference between an MVP and a prototype and the importance of customer discovery (hard when you think you’re so smart you can pre-compute customer problems and derive the solution sitting in your dorm room.)

Mentors/Liaisons/DIUx Support
Besides working with their government sponsors, each team has a dedicated industry mentor. One of the surprises was the outpouring of support from individuals and companies who emailed us from across the country (even a few from outside the U.S.) volunteering to mentor the teams.

Each team is also supported by an active duty military liaison officer drawn from Stanford’s Senior Service College Fellows.

Another source of unexpected support for the teams was from the Secretary of Defense’s DIUx Silicon Valley Innovation Outpost. DIUx has adopted the class and along with the military liaisons translate “military-speak” from the sponsors into English and vice versa.

Advanced Lectures
The Stanford teaching team uses a “flipped classroom” (the lectures are homework watched on Udacity.)  However, for this class some of the parts of the business model canvas, which make sense in a commercial setting, don’t work in the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community. So we are supplementing the video lectures with in-class “advanced” lectures that explain the new Mission Model Canvas. (We’re turning these lectures into animated videos which can serve as homework for the next time we teach this class.)

The first advanced lecture was on Beneficiaries (customers, stakeholders, users, etc.) in the Department of Defense. Slides 4-7 clearly show that solutions in the DOD are always a multi-sided market. Almost every military program has at least four customer segments: Concept Developers, Capability Managers, Program Managers, Users.

If you can’t see the presentation click here.

Each team is keeping a running blog of their customer interactions so we can virtually look over their shoulder as they talk to customers. From the look of the blogs week 2 is going to be equally exciting. Check in next week for an update.

Steve, Pete, Joe & Tom

Lessons Learned from Class 1

  • Talented and diverse students seem eager to solve national defense problems
  • Teams jumped on understanding their sponsors problems – even before the class
  • We’ve put 800+ teams through the NSF I-Corps and another 200 or so through my classes, but this class feels really different. There’s a mission focus and passion to these teams I’ve not seen before

Phil Randazzo


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