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3 Reasons Why the Midwest Will Excel in American Defense Innovation Innovators and entrepreneurs in the region are advancing national security.

By Mike Seper

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The Midwest is refining the innovation process by bringing together academia and defense partners to solve national security challenges. Experiential learning opportunities are available to outstanding schools across the region with an educational infrastructure that supports engineering, innovation and entrepreneurship students through intriguing interactions with national labs and defense technologies. Stimulating student excitement for dual-use innovations is more accessible when direct interactions with cutting-edge inventions and brilliant inventors create futuristic technologies to protect the United States.

1. Retaining talent in the Midwest to develop national security solutions

Over fifty students from Midwestern universities participated in the NSIN X Force Fellowships for placements in labs, such as the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division (NSWC) in Crane, Indiana. Faculty also participate from numerous schools to consult with Department of Defense customers to develop new collaborations with academic institutions benefiting from funding to advance research. Washington University, for example, receives $500,000 per year through the National Security Academic Accelerator (NSA2) to develop dual-use med-tech startups with defense applications and allows faculty researchers to focus on advancing technologies with this financial support, rather than the distraction of developing grant proposals.

Dual-use technologies that can serve commercial and defense applications are hot in the Midwest. The momentum of millions invested in innovation ecosystems is growing with the new National Science Foundation I-Corps Great Lakes Hub selection announcement. The University of Michigan is leading this renowned program that offers experiential entrepreneurial training to academic researchers in STEM. Universities from Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa represent the Midwest to advance innovation on a national scale.

The Heartland may not have coasts, but it boasts excellent research institutions, deep talent pools of highly-educated STEM professionals, and entrepreneurs eager to change the world from "flyover country." The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency took notice of the advantages of the Midwest and is building a $1.7 billion western headquarters near downtown St. Louis, and will redefine the region as a geospatial leader for decades to come.

Related: 3 Ways a Midwest Mindset Can Build a Better Business

2. Entrepreneurial support organizations are integrating defense tech into the startup scene

Past success from unicorn companies emerging from the Heartland has attracted attention from investor networks on the coasts, and the momentum is growing across the Midwest. Being entrepreneurial and patriotic makes defense-funded innovations fun to build and contributes to advancing America's interests by building solutions in stealth, surrounded by crops rather than venture capitalists.

A startup that I co-founded has already benefited from the excitement for dual-use technologies by receiving the GeoSeed grant from the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) and the Technology Entrepreneur Center (T-REX) in St. Louis, Missouri. T-REX is home to the nation's first geospatial innovation center and Moonshot Labs. The National Geospatial Agency (NGA) Accelerator and Capital Innovators have funded over a million and a half dollars, with $100,000 invested into sixteen geospatial startups. Entrepreneurs across the country have noticed, and relocating to the Midwest is much more appealing when entrepreneurs have a supportive community with funding to advance deep tech dual-use ventures.

Related: Hacking for Defense

3. Inclusive and collaborative innovation is the future

St. Louis has ignited interest in inclusive innovation and excitement for equitable entrepreneurship across the Heartland. More female founders are starting companies in St. Louis than in any other city in the United States. The startup scene is growing faster than ever because of this dedication to diversity by welcoming all founders to attract the best talent, teams and technology startups to the area. Still, the Midwest has untapped human capital networks, which is particularly true in the national security space, where the Heartland has historically underperformed compared to other regions.

Our best path is to provide an innovative infrastructure to the region by creating a pathway for solutions to be quickly developed and implemented to solve security problems. The future is bright for American defense innovation as entrepreneurs and national labs develop dual-use technologies with support from academia. Blending business, academic and government research with significant funding has the level of excitement for defense tech at an all-time high.

Entrepreneurship is accessible to everyone in America with a great idea and the passion for pursuing it, no matter where they build their business. The Midwest supports startups by extending the runway long enough for new ventures to reach escape velocity and soar. It is the dawn of a new era in which entrepreneurs and innovators call the Midwest home.

Related: These 8 Heartland Cities Are Essential to the Future of American Innovation

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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