Mission Driven Startup

POLSCI 590-3



Course Description

Hacking for Defense™ (H4D), a course designed for all graduate students in all schools and programs, takes an entrepreneurial, interdisciplinary approach to America’s hardest national security challenges. The complexity of these challenges demands a transformative effort that requires multi-faceted teams comprised of graduate students from the schools of foreign servicepolicy, law, continuing studies, medicine, and business. We need and want policy professionals, makers and mechanical engineers, systems engineers, computer scientists, biomedical and public health professionals, entrepreneurs, physicists, scientists, and everyone between to be part of this unique effort. H4D is a modern renaissance class – it covers policy, economics, technology, national security, and whatever else you need to learn to solve your problem sponsor’s pain points. 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, military liaisons, corporate partners, investors and journalists may be in the room, but, you’ll be solving real problems for real customers, in real-time.


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. Large institutions come with varied constraints and the DoD and IC are no different. Using Lean Startup Theory, this course will provide a platform that can develop solution prototypes that match DOD/IC users’ needs in weeks, not months or years. Military commands and various agencies in the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, or investors, may provide follow-on funding to student teams for further refinement and development of solution prototypes.

Learning Objectives

In this H4D class, student teams select from an existing set of problems provided by the DoD/IC community. Although teams pick a problem to solve, Hacking for Defense™ is not a product incubator for a specific technology/service solution. Instead, it provides teams with a deeper understanding of the selected problems and the host of potential solutions that might be arrayed against them. Using the Lean Startup Methodology the class focuses teams to:

  1. Profoundly understand the problems/needs of government customers.
  2. Rapidly iterate solutions while searching for product-market fit.
  3. Understand all the stakeholders, deployment issues, costs, resources, and ultimate mission value.
  4. Deliver minimum viable products that match customer needs in a very short time.
  5. Produce a repeatable model that can be used to launch potential technology or other solutions.

Instructional Methodology

Flipped Classroom: 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.

Experiential Learning: 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 ten (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.



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