The National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) is a program office within the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) that seeks to create networks of non-traditional innovators to bring different solutions to DoD problems. Beverly Seay is the NSIN Southeast Regional Director, and in her role, she leverages talent through new partnerships with major universities and the venture community to drive national security innovation.
NSIN Helps Facilitate Finding the Problem
“NSIN builds relationships with our DoD partners, which we call mission partners, to help them find what challenging problems are left unmet,” Seay explained. “We work with early-stage ventures, academia, and individuals in the entrepreneurial community. We bring them together to work with mission partners to develop solutions and deploy solutions to warfighters.”
Seay said there are a variety of reasons why military units have unmet problems including not having the resources, skills, or talent pool. Another scenario is the issue may not be a high priority because near-term mission essential activities are prioritized. This is where NSIN adds significant value, Seay explained. NSIN’s embedded subject matter experts work with the unit to better understand the problems, and then can bring in the skilled talent to help address them.
Sometimes, Seay explained, the first challenge is defining the problem. “You may think it’s a particular problem; but until you talk to people, interview them, test hypotheses about the problem and possible solutions, you don’t know,” she said. “Once we have a good definition of the problem, then we can match the issue to a solution.”
Seay described there are several different ways to solve problems. For example, identifying a company in an early-stage venture that is solving the very same problem or something similar. Or leveraging existing government lab IP in a new way. A third way of solving problems is to convert a commercial solution for a military use, thus expanding the product to have dual-use applications.
“We help organizations understand how to work with the DoD, and how to create a dual-use solution for their company so it can expand their market and create an opportunity for others in the DoD to use their technology,” Seay explained. “And the DoD doesn’t have to build it, maintain it, create a lifecycle solution, or get locked into a particular solution because there’s a commercial solution. The companies that create commercial solutions deal with all the lifecycle issues.”
Team Orlando and NSIN
Seay said Team Orlando is already working with NSIN to achieve some of its priorities, and there are even greater opportunities to scale. “For example, our collaboration streamlines the process of capturing mission partner problems, evaluating the status of any similar needs, or whether any existing solutions have already been deployed that are relevant. This efficiency frees up our collective resources to help solve more problems,” Seay said. “That creates a lot of opportunity.”
Seay feels that one of the most important parts of the Tech Grove’s involvement with NSIN is being able to amplify mission partner opportunities across the country. “It’s a one stop place,” she said. “I can alert Tech Grove about upcoming NSIN program activities, and they can message all the different organizations that are involved in Team Orlando, whether it’s the mission partners, the military partners that are part of Team Orlando, the university, National Center for Simulation, or the Corridor – all of the organizations that come together to make this such a special place.”
NSIN Looks to Students and Companies
NSIN offers a university course called “Hacking for Defense,” powered by BMNT, Inc. and the Common Mission Project, that teaches students to work with the defense and intelligence communities to rapidly address the nation’s emerging threats and security challenges. Fifty-five universities offer the course, including the University of Central Florida (UCF) which is in its third year. The course teaches students to apply the Lean LaunchPad methodology to solve real national security problems. It’s a way to find the authentic demand – the real problem to solve and not waste resources. NSIN sources real-life mission partner problems and provides specialized training and curriculum support to university faculty. UCF renamed its course from “Hacking for Defense” to “Entrepreneurship for Defense,” and the popular course is also available to all Florida state universities.
Most university curriculums offer seniors an experiential opportunity working with industry or faculty. NSIN works with their network to present a list of defined problems and offers design classes to seniors. The students are put in teams and choose the problems they want to work on. But not all the problems can be solved within a semester or two.
In the case where a problem solution timeframe does not fit within a semester construct, NSIN has other program options available. For example, “hackathons,” an event where individuals, a team, or small to large businesses come together to learn about a problem that needs to be solved.
“This is where it’s really nice being in Orlando because we have the Central Florida Tech Grove, and many services here that work with us to provide problems,” Seay said. “Tech Grove provides a place, resources, and people for the hackathons. NSIN works with the mission partner and perhaps provides some prize money so the mission partner can find potential solutions to their problems.”
Following an NSIN Hacks event, there are opportunities to test and integrate solutions at Tech Grove and provide feedback to the mission partner.
Service and Acceleration
One of NSIN’s portfolios is the National Service Portfolio, which helps connect students, recent graduates, and experienced professionals with job opportunities in the DoD. “When we put the students together with our mission partners, that’s when the magic happens,” Seay said. “The National Service Portfolio is a way of serving without putting on a uniform and to diversify the national security workforce.”
Another National Service program is Tech Squad, a remote, part-time, voluntary service opportunity that connects early-career STEM professionals with DoD units to collaboratively solve tech-oriented national security problems.
“It’s been proven over and over again that a diverse group of people, regardless of their diversity — gender, race, backgrounds, where they live, where they came from, or different fields of study — when brought together to solve a problem, have a whole different way of looking at it and solving problems. This is where new ideas to old problems and innovation surfaces,” Seay said.
The NSIN Acceleration Portfolio is focused on finding and creating ventures that develop solutions to real-world problems faced by service members. One of these accelerators is the Propel Economic Development Initiative program, a focused effort to help small businesses in economically challenged areas be matched to DoD mission partners to align problem holders with commercial solution providers and accelerate government funding opportunities to small businesses.
Seay explained how this accelerator works and the positive impact, “We’re reaching out to areas across the country that may or may not be near a base or mission partner, and they may not know, like other commercial early-stage ventures, that what they’re developing could be of critical importance to the Department of Defense. The Propel-EDI program is helping non-traditional commercial problem solvers gain access to DoD contract opportunities which diversifies our national security innovation base. It’s a win-win.”
NSIN and Workforce Development
NSIN works with mission partners to understand their hiring needs and conducts Hire-a-Thons, which are similar to career fairs. NSIN identifies mission partner talent needs and when openings exist, they use their network to match skilled professionals to those positions.
“We’re going out and finding people that probably don’t even know about the hiring network to find Department of Defense job openings,” Seay explained. “The DoD hiring managers lack the network and connections to connect with talent who aren’t looking for jobs in the Department of Defense. NSIN is uniquely situated to match STEM talent who are not familiar with the DoD hiring process or career opportunities to help mission partners fill high priority or hard-to-fill roles.”
One of Seay’s passion projects is the International Collegiate Programming Contest, North American Championship, which has a talent pool of 3,000-plus computer science students from freshmen through grad school available to solve high-tech problems.
“That means cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and quantum,” she said.
These are your top talent students and we’re creating awareness that this talent pool – one that refreshes every year — is available for internships and for job opportunities.”
Seay is a former entrepreneurial modeling and simulation (M&S) defense industry senior executive with global experience and a Fortune 500 track record in domestic and global business operations. She brings to NSIN strong university ties and industry collaboration expertise in start-ups, turnarounds, high growth, and acquisitions.
In a conversation, it’s easy to get drawn into her excitement and passion about NSIN, the M&S community, and the collaboration that will result in the solutions to problems. But her true loves are her grandchildren.
“I have four wonderful grandchildren, three girls and a boy, ranging in age from 21 months to 15 years old and they keep me very busy,” Seay said. “I have to work out every day just to be able to keep up with them!”
“That’s why I do what I do,” she said. “When I was a young mother working so hard in industry, it was all for my daughters and continuing to build this community to make the world a better and safer place. It starts here where we live. My daughters are here – my sons-in-law and grandchildren. It’s important to me to continue to build the defense innovation opportunity in Orlando and our community for them and their future security.”
Next Steps for the NSIN Southeast Region
The NSIN Southeast Region includes North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. NSIN has a local representative in several of these states and Seay’s goal is to ultimately have a team member in each state.
“My short-term and long-term plans are to make sure we have experts on the ground in all of the key markets to build relationships and connect early-stage ventures and academia with Department of Defense problem solving opportunities,” she said. “We’re creative and are using the resources and connections we have to amplify our reach and impact. Tech Grove is an asset to NSIN this way because they make it easy to have an outsized impact.”
Seay concluded, “The Tech Gove vision is to bring different people together to showcase for mission partners the kind of innovation and problem-solving skills available — not only in this community, but across the country. The Tech Grove vision fits the NSIN model perfectly and is a model of collaboration!”
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