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Hacking for Defense™

Solving National Security Problems with Lean Startup Principles


Hacking for Defense™

Solving National Security Problems with Lean Startup Principles

“From an MBA student's perspective, H4D afforded the most 'real life' project experience because our team was working on a live problem, not some regurgitated case study or simulation. Our team was made up of students from three different Georgetown master's programs, and we each had our own relevant experiences and skills that we had to use in order to identify the real problem, identify possible solutions, and communicate those to our 'customer' organization. Mission accomplishment made the experience worth it, as have the valuable situational awareness and relationships I have made through the H4D community of students, teachers, mentors, partners, and government personnel.” J.D. Engelhardt, MBA ‘18

Hacking for Defense™ (H4D) is the most unique and rewarding class you’ll take at Georgetown. A Security Studies Program course designed for all graduate students in all schools and programs, it takes an entrepreneurial, interdisciplinary approach to America’s hardest national security challenges. The complexity of these challenges demands a transformative effort that requires committed, multi-faceted teams comprised of graduate students from every school and program at Georgetown. We need and want policy wonks, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, makers and mechanical engineers, systems engineers, computer scientists, data scientists, biomedical and public health professionals, physicists, techies, poets, and everyone between to be part of this unique effort. You will be at the forefront of changing the paradigm of problem-solving and solution development for the U.S. Government. The course is demanding; you’ll present at every class, you’ll work closely with your team, you’ll receive relentlessly direct feedback, your problem sponsors, mentors, and military and intelligence community liaisons will be in the room, and so will prospective investors, but you’ll be solving real problems for real customers, in real-time.

It's why you came to Georgetown.

H4D is an education initiative sponsored by the U.S. Government proponent, the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator at the National Defense University, and was originally created at Stanford by Pete NewellJoe Felter, Professor Tom Byers, and Steve Blank, and has been wildly successful. Teams of 3-5 students from interdisciplinary backgrounds work together to solve real-world national security challenges given to us by problem sponsors inside the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community. Past problem sponsors have been Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER), Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization (JIDO), National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), National Security Agency (NSA), U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), The Asymmetric Warfare Group, and many others. Using Lean Startup Methodology, and working closely with their problem sponsors, mentors, and liaisons, teams will have 13 weeks to bring a product or service "to market." In a past class, four of eight teams received additional funding to continue their work from either their problem sponsor or an investor.





Learn how to innovate at speed while helping make the world a safer place.

In a crisis, national security initiatives move at the speed of a startup yet in peacetime they default to decades-long acquisition and procurement cycles. Startups operate with continual speed and urgency 24/7. Over the last few years they've learned to be fast and efficient with resources and time using lean startup methodologies. In this class student teams will take actual national security problems and learn how to apply lean startup principles, ("business model canvas," "customer development," and "agile engineering") to discover and validate customer needs and to continually build minimum viable products (MVPs) to test whether they understood the problem and solution. Teams take a hands-on approach requiring close engagement with actual military and intelligence community leaders and end-users.

So, why Hacking for Defense?

1.     You’ll work on hard, gnarly problems, while contributing to national service.

2.    You’ll work on real national security issues, with real national security leaders.

3.    You’ll learn Lean Startup methodology to help you build efficient and successful startups, and develop skills to solve problems in            any organization.

Here's a short video to demonstrate why H4D is so desperately needed:


General Info

General Info

Class Basics

SEST-701 - Hacking for Defense™: Solving National Security Issues with Lean Startup Principles


When & Where:

Spring 2019 on Mondays (6:30 - 9:00 PM)



Research Asst:

Syllabus & registration Info



Registration is granted to teams of 3-5 Georgetown University graduate students, from any school or department and National Capital Region Consortium engineering students.


Pre-register to guarantee your seat!



  • Watch the livestream of each class on Periscope/Twitter @H4DGUSSP and on Facebook Live @Hacking4DefenseGeorgetown

  • Chris & Kathryn's weekly observations here

  • If you want to create/join a team, sign up on this Google Sheet and attend brown bag lunches/information sessions.

  • To receive updates, please follow us on Twitter @H4DGUSSP.

  • Interested in providing technical advice to a team? Email Chris Taylor or Kathryn Harris

  • For examples from previous Student Final Presentations: click here.

  • To better understand how the process works see the final presentation videos; watch them on video here.