The defense industry is changing in the United States of America. For years now, huge corporations such as British Aerospace Engineering and Raytheon have completely dominated the market and swooped in to poach promising innovators. Inventors and programmers have found themselves swallowed up in vast bureaucracies, working on projects that they feel morally uncomfortable on and with less than savory people.
Recently though, the defense needs of the United States have begun to shift. The asymmetrical aspects of America’s security, as well as the growing threat of flashpoints with China and Russia, require constant innovation at a quick pace. Cyber defense and information security are massively complex and quickly evolving fields.
As such, the work of developing new solutions has diversified. Smaller companies, including recent startups, can offer the DoD and its allies’ tailor-made solutions in a fraction of the time it would take a giant like Boeing. This is because of optimization. A smaller group can dedicate all its resources to the development of a single product and does not have to negotiate the labyrinth of internal politics large companies face.
Of course, small startups cannot compete with larger corporations when developing flagship systems like aircraft, but the market has truly opened up for innovators. Here are some key things to consider if you want your defense startup to earn national security contracts.
Try not to get carried away with too broad a range of innovations. The department of defense is ideally looking to fill requirements most simply and cost-effectively possible – after all, it is taxpayer’s money that you are vying for. Companies with a clear specialization that can dedicate their time to achieving solutions to one problem will get a better look in. It is also far more cost effective for the company.
Take Part in Accelerator Programs
Accelerator programs are advantageous in several ways. Firstly, they swiftly educate startup innovators on the make-up of their market. Unless you have experience working in the defense industry, it can seem like an incredibly daunting place. It has a unique culture and very stringent security. It can be a welcoming place, but it certainly takes some getting used to. Accelerator programs allow startup innovators to bed into their industry.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, they are networking hubs. One of the most challenging aspects of working in the defense industry is gatekeeping. Company representatives are often wary of outsiders, and government officials are rightfully very selective of their interactions. Working in conjunction with an accelerator program, startups can network in an incubated environment, where all parties are encouraged to collaborate.
Thirdly, they open doors to funding and investment. Financing for any startup is difficult enough to secure. Funding for defense projects is even harder. Because defense projects often rely upon public funding, there is a huge amount of risk oversight required before any organization tied to the government can invest. Programs such as the Boston Accelerator Program can link your startup with investors in a supportive environment. The United States Air Force funds one of the program tracks and keeps a close eye on developments from participants.
This is a good rule of thumb for any startup, not just those looking to innovate in the defense field. Partnering up is the most cost-effective way to develop new products and gain insight into your industry, particularly if you are new to it. For instance, if your team has developed a new piece of aviation software, partnering with an aerospace hardware development company will allow you to integrate your software into products you might not have been able to access on your own. This will put you in a much better position: defense buyers are more likely to buy software with real-world applications that are already in use.
Steer Clear of Politics and Avoid Espionage
This is easier said than done. Politics and the defense industry are intertwined, but if you want some advice from us? Steer clear. The political landscape within the pentagon can change drastically overnight, and with every firing comes a sacrifice of influence. Try and stay politically neutral, no typing your innovation to any one military mind or geopolitical culture.
You would be equally wise to leave espionage to the spies. Do not compromise your reputation by falling into the manipulative world of spooks, honey traps, document sharing or financial misuse. This is all serious stuff and is best avoided, no matter how tempting it becomes to boost your startup with subterfuge related contracts.
Software is the New Hardware
In the past, defense startups were faced with a daunting task: they had to fund the development of hardware. This was an immensely costly process and required huge investment – often without ever getting off the ground. Times have changed. There has, however, been a culture shift.
Startups specializing in software and AI for the defense industry are now in very high demand. Investment is flowing into software development from state and private interests. Software and AI development is far less risky to develop than hardware. However, there is a catch: attracting the best minds in software development to your startup is no easy task. With the market so stacked with software developers, you have to pitch hard and pitch intelligently to get the right team together.
Innovate in Information Defense
We live, sadly, in an age of information warfare. The truth matters and the objectivity of the truth are less and less easy to define. From ‘fake news’ to the ‘St Petersburg troll factory’, the control of information has dominated discourse on security in the last few years.
Of course, the control of the truth has always been a part of warfare, but the Department of Defense is scrambling to deal with the proliferation of information threats from potential adversaries. Existing corporations are not in a position to develop information security solutions quickly enough to deal with threats. Startups specializing in information defense will more than likely catch the attention of military strategists.