Promote a Virtuous Insurgency

By Chad Manifold

In the bright halls of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and on the polished concrete of Bunker Labs in Chicago, Illinois, more than 100 like-minded reformers met in early October 2016 to inspire innovation during the 4th Annual Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF). Among them were currently serving active-duty, guard, and reserve military members, veterans, retirees, and civilians from government and business.

In their War on the Rocks article, retired Army Lieutenant General David Barno and Dr. Nora Bensahel explained that the DEF network makes up a “Virtuous Insurgency” seeking new ways for DOD to leverage creative thinkers both within and outside government. The DEF network has no formal member process or annual fees. Instead, it is a self-organizing collective whose mission is to help innovators make outsized impacts on the world around them. Among DEF’s past achievements is “The F5 Report,” which was used by senior leaders when creating the Force of the Future initiatives.

Mirroring the Navy’s Athena Project, the DEF—sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute for the third consecutive year—culminated in a pitch competition focused on DOD’s missions and objectives. The four judges—Todd Connor, Rachelle Oribio, Brandon McPherson, and Fred Rainbow—brought their breadth of experience to advise and judge the pitch competitors. Todd Conner serves as the CEO of The Bunker Labs and is co-founder of Flank 5 Academy. Rachelle Oribio is the program director for Techstars++ and avidly supports responsible business and social enterprise. Brandon McPherson, a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve, is currently a vice president with Goldman Sachs. Fred Rainbow is the director of periodicals for the U.S. Naval Institute.

This year’s three winners shared $5,000 in prize money. The winner of the competition was Jason Ray, a Supply Corps officer in the Navy Reserve and co-founder of Sightline Maps. His pitch described an already functioning web-based platform that converts a digital topographic map into a file that can be used to produce 3D-printed models or viewed digitally on a virtual reality headset. Zach Howitt, a former naval officer, won second place with his idea to merge and creating a powerful command remediation, resolution, and feedback system. Robert Holliday, a company commander in the Army Reserve, placed third with Anodyne. His idea for a web-based marketplace for global data would enable the reliable dissemination and long-term storage of millions of currently unavailable data sets.

Thanks to the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, the virtuous insurgency is underway, providing innovative solutions today and growing to address tomorrow’s challenges.

Chad Manifold is the DEF Innovation Competition Director and a cyber officer in the Air Force Reserve currently assigned to Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command.


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