Hacking for Defense™ (H4D) is designed to provide students the opportunity to learn how to work with the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community (IC) to better address the nation’s emerging threats and security challenges. (See the background here.) Unlike current practices in the DoD/IC that can stall and in some cases thwart rapid innovation, this course will provide a platform that can develop prototypes that match DOD/IC users’ needs in weeks. Agencies or Commands in the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community, or investors, may provide follow-on funding to these student teams for further refinement and development of solution prototypes.
In most existing Lean Startup classes, student teams come with a vision of a product or service they’d like to build. In this H4D class, student teams may either select from an existing set of problems provided by the DoD/IC community or introduce their own ideas for DoD/IC problems that need to be solved. Although teams pick a problem to solve, H4D is not a product incubator for a specific technology solution. Instead, it provides teams with a deeper understanding of selected problems and the host of potential technological solutions that might be arrayed against them. Using the Lean LaunchPad Methodology the class focuses teams to:
This class is not about how to write a business plan. It’s not an exercise on how smart you are in a classroom, or how well you use the research library to size markets. And the end result is not a PowerPoint slide deck for a venture capital presentation or a Y Combinator Demo Day. And it is most definitely not an incubator where you come to build the “hot-idea” that you have in mind.
This class combines Lean Startup theory with a ton of hands-on practice. Our goal, within the constraints of a classroom and a limited amount of time, is to give you a framework to test your solution hypotheses using a startup model while creating all of the pressures and demands of the real world in an early stage start up. The class is designed to give you the experience of how to work as a team and turn an idea into a solution for a real-world problem facing the Department of Defense and other government agencies.
You will be getting your hands dirty talking to "customers" or "beneficiaries" - military and other government stakeholders and end users as you encounter the chaos and uncertainty of how a startup actually works. You’ll practice evidence-based entrepreneurship as you learn how to use a business model to brainstorm each part of a company and customer development to get out of the classroom to see whether anyone other than you would want/use your product. Finally, based on the customer and market feedback you gathered, you will use agile development to rapidly iterate your product or concept to build/design something customers would actually buy and use. Each block will be a new adventure outside the classroom as you test each part of your business model and then share the hard earned knowledge with the rest of the class.
We teach Lean Startup Theory + hands-on practice. You will learn urgency, evidence-based entrepreneurship, customer development, and “good-enough” decision making. You will do so by talking to 10-15 customers per week and presenting your results in class each week.
One more thing... You're not going to get everything right, but that's where real learning comes from. Watch Steve Blank talk about turning failure into wisdom, here.
Unlike a traditional classroom where the instructor presents lecture material, our lectures are online. Watching the assigned lectures is part of your weekly homework. The information in them is essential for you to complete your weekly interviews and present the insights the teaching team will expect in your presentation for that week. We expect you to watch the assigned lectures for the upcoming week before class and we will use time in class to discuss questions about the lecture material and to provide supplemental material. You need to come prepared with questions or comments about the material for in-class discussion. We will cold-call students to answer questions about the online lecture material.
You will be spending a significant amount of time in between each of the lectures outside the class talking to customers. Each week your team will conduct a minimum of 10 customer interviews focused on a specific part of the Mission Model Canvas. This class is a simulation of what startups and entrepreneurship is like in the real world: chaos, uncertainty, impossible deadlines in insufficient time, conflicting input, etc.
Sitting in the back of the classroom are experienced instructors and professionals who have built and/or funded world-class startups as well as seasoned military professionals with significant experience in the field. We won’t be lecturing in the traditional sense, but commenting and critiquing on each team’s progress. While the comments may be specific for each team, the insights are almost always applicable to all teams. Pay attention.
While other teams are presenting the results of their weekly experiments, the rest of the class is expected to attentively listen, engage, and react to what they see and hear. Sharing insights, experience, and contacts with each other is a key way that this unique laboratory achieves results.
Startups communicate in a dramatically different style from the university or large company culture you may be familiar with. At times it can feel brusque and impersonal, but in reality is focused and oriented to create immediate action in time- and resource-constrained environments. We have limited time and we push, challenge, and question you in the hope you will quickly learn. We will be direct, open, and tough just like the real world. This approach may seem harsh or abrupt, but it is all part of you learning to challenge yourselves quickly and objectively, and to appreciate that as solution entrepreneurs you need to learn and evolve faster than you ever imagined possible. This class pushes many people past their comfort zone. You will be receiving candid critiques in front of your peers weekly. The pace and the uncertainty pick up as the class proceeds. As part of the process, we also expect you to question us, challenge our point of view if you disagree, and engage in a real dialog with the teaching team.
This class is team-based. You apply as a team. You will be interviewed as a team. You will be admitted as a team. Working and studying will be done in teams. Teams must submit a proposal for entry before the class begins. Projects must be approved before the class.
Teams will self-organize and establish individual roles on their own. In addition to the instructors and RAs, each team will be assigned a mentor (an experienced entrepreneur, service provider, or investor), a point of contact from the problem sponsor, and a military liaison officer to provide assistance and support.
Meaningful customer discovery requires the development of a minimum viable product (MVP). Therefore, each team should have the applicable goal of the following:
We suggest that you consider a problem in which you are a domain expert, such as your graduate research. In all cases, you should choose something for which you have passion, enthusiasm, and, hopefully, some expertise. Do not select this type of project unless you are prepared to see it through.
This class hits the ground running. It assumes you and your team have come into class having read the assigned reading, viewed the online lectures, and prepared a set of contacts to call on.
Your weekly presentations and final Lessons Learned presentations will be shared and visible to others. We may be record or live-stream and share many of the class sessions.
Given the amount of work this class entails, there is no way you can do the work while participating in multiple large projects. A condition of admission to the class is that this is the only large project you are working on this semester.
This course is team-based and 85% of your grade will come from your team progress and final project. Your peers will also grade your contribution to your team. The grading criteria are broken down as follows:
15% - Individual participation in class. You will be giving feedback to your peers.
30% - Out-of-the-building progress as measured by blog write-ups and presentations each week.
Team members must:
25% - The team weekly “lesson learned” presentation (see weekly syllabus for weekly content requirement and format)
30% - Team final presentation
This total is multiplied by a “peer grading multiplier” as assigned to you by your team at the end of the semester.