By Tom Nelson
It may feel intangible now, but there exists a future in which international cross pollination thrives among allied governments and innovative startups across the globe.
Though constrained to a generation enmeshed in silos and bureaucracy, this is the future Hacking 4 Allies sees as the most viable solution to countering current and future global security threats that demand an international perspective. This vision drives the 2-year-old program to do the unexpected: connect dual-use startups in allied nations to the U.S. defense ecosystem while creating an “Allied Innovation Base” necessary for a global environment defined by great power competition.
Norway, the first country to work with us here at BMNT in the collaborative endeavor, has already proven the value of widespread innovation and information sharing, and will continue to grow its cohort now in its second year with H4A.
Key players in this partnership among BMNT’s enterprise accelerator, H4XLabs, and Innovation Norway; the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI); the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the Norwegian-American Defense & Homeland Security Industry Council (NADIC) gathered in December to discuss the program’s origins and impact to date.
The team of innovators, venture capitalists and government staff from both countries met in Washington, D.C., to discuss building on successes realized by Norwegian startups and the folks tasked with solving defense-related problems in America since Norway joined the program one year ago.
“We try to help the government become a better partner to small emergent companies,” said Pete Newell, CEO of BMNT. “BMNT is part innovation services company supporting the government, part business incubator and accelerator.”
The gap between the startup industry and the government that exists within the U.S. becomes a chasm when innovators from other friendly countries seek to partner with the American Defense industry.
Hacking 4 Allies was born out of the desire to close the distance, and combine America’s military might and buying power with the agile, proactive and high-capability innovations coming out of ally nations like Norway. Traditionally, the US government’s acquisition processes have been a mystifying source of bureaucratic confusion. Meanwhile, the visionary technologies and capabilities emerging from distant Norway weren’t on the U.S. Department of Defense’s radar. However, today’s escalating political landscape demands friendly collaboration and the unraveling of red tape.
“Seventy percent of work within BMNT is done inside federal agencies, helping them develop what we call an innovation pipeline,” Newell said. “Part of the pipeline is sourcing the problems, the technologies and the people that can spark solutions. Part of that is strongly attacking the bureaucracy that prevents innovation from happening.”
Norway a hotbed for innovative technology
Norway, with its austere landscape, extreme climate, and strategic position, is a powerhouse of technological advancements in space, ocean, and polar capabilities. The Norwegian topography drives the development of devices with increased rugged durability. The way the Norwegians see it, if it can meet the harsh conditions in Norway’s far reaches, it can meet the challenges faced by the military in Afghanistan.
Einar Gustafson, counselor for Defense Industry Cooperation at the Royal Norwegian Embassy, shared insights into the unique value found in Norway: “Norway fosters a culture of innovation which applies technology to solve problems. This ensures cost efficiencies while always pushing boundaries. This culture generates new solutions, but ones that aren’t necessarily only useful within the Norwegian scope.”
According to Gustafson and his colleagues at the embassy, H4A is helping Norway meet some of its government’s most strategic political goals. As a part of a larger national strategy, H4A enables Norway’s innovators to respond to shared trends across both America and Norway, like the needs for faster innovation and more dual-use capabilities.
The companies chosen to participate in the program are as diverse and unique as the challenges facing America and its allies. Offering insight into the selection process for participants in the H4A program, Tore Helland, Senior Advisor with Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, or FFI, explained that technologies have to “solve or be anchored in a relevant problem for Norwegian defense while also being useful for American defense. Similarly, solutions must fit with something that realistically can be exported and grown into industry. From that perspective, it's a mix of three different angles that capture the ideal candidate needed to succeed in the program.”
Bridging to the World
The difficulty in connecting the change-drivers with bureaucracies is universal. As the world continues to turn on rapidly accelerating technological development, bureaucracies are still not able to keep up. While there is no single solution, countries must learn to be more flexible, more willing to share problems, and let industry discuss those problems with user communities.
Gustafson adds: “If we want to actually utilize technology to solve a problem, we have to accept 70 or 80 percent solutions, and be willing to gain operational experience along the way.”
Steve Weinstein, BMNT’s senior VP of Venture, who oversees the H4XLabs and H4A programs, explained that it can typically take seven to 10 years for a new capability to find its way to the American market, a timetable that is wholly incompatible with modern needs and realities.
“Our whole effort centers around harnessing this sense of urgency and finding solutions that are lacking. The DoD is lacking solutions, period. Our work isn’t just about bridging to Silicon Valley, it’s about bridging to the world,” Weinstein said.
Peter Newell, CEO, BMNT
Trond Baade, CSO, Anzyz
Magnus Fors Haugen, Cofounder and CMO, Avju Solutions
Andreas Haugen, Cofounder and CFO, Avju Solutions
Rolf Inge Roth, CEO, GreenAmmo
Håkon Haugli, CEO, Innovation Norway
Tore Helland, Senior Advisor, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI)
Patrick Driscoll, Venture Lead, BMNT