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Fed Small Business Outreach: The Defense Innovation Unit

Bottom Line Up Front: The Pentagon has created a wide array of organizations to widen its base of contractors. The granddaddy of them all is the Defense Innovation Unit. (DIU)

Federal R&D Is Broken

One of the principal drivers of the Digital Transformation is the realization that private industry creates hot new technology with the speed of a turbocharged race car, and the Pentagon does it like a wheelbarrow with a broken wheel. Yes, back in Ye Olden Days of the 1950s the Government invented the internet and the transistor, but nowadays it’s more likely to spend 30 years to develop ships that don’t work. Maybe 70 years ago the Government was hot new science, but today, all that stuff comes out of private industry. As you remember from our recent discussion, Federal R&D is broken:

So What Do We Do?

What we do is throw the doors open to all that hot new technology! Let’s just bring in all that crazy innovation that the tech startups and Silicon Valley folks are building!

Rolling Out The Welcome Mat To Tech Innovators

So in 2015, the Pentagon’s first step in this wild new world was to create an outreach organization to knock on the door of tech innovators and invite them in. The name of this crazy new outfit was the Defense Innovation Unit – Experimental. The “Experimental” part was because no one knew if this would work. The Pentagon was stepping outside its comfort zone of mountain of regulation and policies. And no one knew if Silicon Valley idealists would want to join in with the stodgy old Defense Industrial Complex. Would it work? Who knew? That’s why it was “Experimental.”

Until 2018, when the Pentagon dropped the “Experimental” because it had been so successful!

Like this five-year retrospective stated, DIU had achieved super results in bringing in some of that hot new tech:

Today — five years later — DIU has headquarters in Silicon Valley, as well as offices in Washington, Boston and Austin, Texas. They’ve awarded more than 160 contracts to commercial companies at a faster rate than what might have been expected from the Defense Department — sometimes in as little as 60 days. DIU has initiated 72 projects and brought 33 to completion, transitioning 20 commercial solutions to the Defense Department. 

Congress and the Pentagon have recognized their success and responded with piles and piles of cash:

“DIU received a 55% budget increase for FY20 from Congress, and we’re using that to expand capacity to do more projects. In fact, we’re doing 50% more projects this year than we did last year and that is triple the projects we did in 2018.

Heck, just look at this carrot they dangle in your face:

Oh wow, How Do I Get In On That?

Well, there’s a couple of things to know.

First, although they are open to all innovation and welcome any game-changing new technology, they focus with particular interest in these six areas:

  1. Advanced energy and materials
  2. Artificial Intelligence
  3. Autonomous vehicles
  4. Cyber
  5. Human systems
  6. Space

The way it works is that first, they request stuff. They put out an announcement saying they’re looking for a particular tech solution, and then folks submit cool new ideas. Right now, for example, they have a request asking for image recognition that can identify bad guys at 30 miles.

Once they have submissions, they pick good ones and sign up a super quick contract in about a month. AND it’s done outside the traditional mountain of red tape, so all of those cumbersome Pentagon regulations do not apply. And then it’s off to the races. You build your thing, they give you money, and then everybody’s happy.

They want to hear from you!

Scroll down to the bottom of this page and see the companies they’ve worked with. Most of those are tech companies and startups so small that you’ve never heard of them. That’s who they want! The Defense Innovation Unit was created to expand the industrial base of the Department of Defense and welcome everyone in. They want to hear from you!