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How the Department of Defense Can Help You Build Your Next Startup American innovation unlocks tremendous opportunities for prosperity.

By Mike Seper

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Why would the Department of Defense invest thousands of hours and millions of dollars into developing futuristic technologies then license these discoveries to American startups?

In short, American innovation holds the key to sustained peace and unlocks tremendous opportunities for prosperity when entrepreneurs can commercialize dual-use technologies for societal benefit. Harnessing scientific breakthroughs is the reason America prevailed in previous wars. Advancing new technology startups not only drives economic development but may also play a pivotal role in supporting defense initiatives.

Radar is a great example of a technology that changed the tide of World War II. Applying radio detection and ranging helped American and Allied forces identify threats earlier and prepare an offensive position to protect our troops. Radar technology had been developed and deployed, but the warnings were unfortunately ignored before the attack on Pearl Harbor which could have saved many lives.

Related: Cyber Security Becoming a Critical Component Of National Security

Making the leap from university to national security

As an undergraduate, I was inspired by my grandmother's stories and decided to chase a dream to attend the University of Hawaii to study innovation and entrepreneurship. My grandmother became a widow and single mother when she lost her husband in the attack on Pearl Harbor. She remarried when she met my grandfather upon his return from war in Europe, where he fought as a first-generation American, in areas his ancestors had defended generations earlier.

Her stories manifested into a journey thousands of miles from Missouri to Hawaii and all began with the belief that anything was possible if I was willing to work to achieve it. This philosophy may resonate with many entrepreneurs as it is the dedication to our dreams that makes them become a reality. We rarely know where we will go but we must be willing to think big, believe and take that first step towards our future.

When the opportunity to interact with the Department of Defense and the National Security Innovation Network was shared in the entrepreneurship center, I immediately jumped to seize this dream scenario. Seeing what most Americans would assume is Top Secret tech was too great to pass up and the idea of licensing and developing deep tech, supported by the DoD, presented an opportunity I never knew existed.

The Defense Innovation Accelerator powered by FedTech, now called Foundry, was my first introduction to the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN).

Related: Recalibrating National Security To Improve Cybersecurity

The power of the network

NSIN is a DoD innovation office structured under the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering that connects priorities of DoD mission partners with talent and technology in the private sector and academia. This organization opened my eyes to the potential of dual-use technologies through a connected problem-solving network.

I was matched with a tremendous cofounder and former Marine, who shared my excitement for energy accessibility and the potential that it unlocked. Together we built a wireless power startup virtually during the pandemic, utilizing intellectual property developed at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division. These connections at NSWC Crane opened doors to a career in defense innovation and a new network in national security.

It is now my honor to serve my country through innovation and entrepreneurship as the National Security Innovation Network University Program Director at Washington University in St. Louis. As a contractor with GXM Consulting, I have the privilege to contribute to the amazing GXM and NSIN teams, and serve an institution where I previously worked as the associate director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center.

Creating cutting-edge technologies is vital to success, but a network must be established for the adoption and utilization of any innovation. The lessons learned from World War II technologies still apply over eighty years later as the DoD must prepare for the future.

Inventions and demonstrations will not win the war.

Equipping entrepreneurs with the tech to establish nontraditional startups, investing significant funding to research and development, then supporting the transition of the most promising startup technologies will be the key to maintaining America's scientific superiority.

Serving your country by building a tech startup, licensing defense-funded innovations, and presenting solutions to national security challenges are opportunities that every entrepreneur should seize. America is in a new space race and will need significant investments in science and technology to win multi-domain operations across land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace. This elevates the stakes and makes the opportunity to work in national security even more interesting and impactful.

Related: Cyber Security Becoming a Critical Component Of National Security

Mike Seper

University Program Director at Washington University

Mike Seper is a startup founder, writer and National Security Innovation network member. Seper serves on Harris-Stowe State University's Entrepreneurship Advisory Board, GXM and represented Washington University in the Kauffman Foundation Heartland Communities of Practice.

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