By Sami Lais
Special to GCN
Known more for big spending than penny-pinching, the Defense Department
has devised an almost scandalously cheap way to unearth new, innovative
The year-old Defense Venture Catalyst Initiative, known as DeVenCI, uses
the free expertise, eyes and ears of 11 high-power, private-sector
venture capitalists in scouring the country for technology that is new
and ready for deployment. When the agency finds such technology, it
invests no money. Instead, it brokers a meeting of interested parties
and lets events take their course.
The brainchild of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, DeVenCI
works like this: First, its four-person staff, led by Robert Pohanka,
former director of the Office of Naval Researchs Science and Technology
Department, meets with acquisition staff members from DOD agencies to
learn their technology needs.
A lot of information comes from the DOD and government acquisition
community, who define needs and help us define opportunities. We get a
lot of input from research and development organizations and especially
from the warfighter, Pohanka said.
DeVenCI staff members compile a wish list and meet with the board of
advisers, composed of the 11 venture capitalists, to discuss agency
needs. Board members then return to their companies and begin to search.
For the next month and a half, they review proposals from technology
companies. This is how they make money.
The size of the companies doesnt matter, Pohanka said. It can be as
small as two people in a garage. The focus is on workable innovation, he
said. Were very product-oriented.
Innovators also are invited to apply directly, via DeVenCIs Web site
(devenci.dtic.mil). DeVenCI staff members meet again with the board,
whose members usually bring recommendations for about 30 companies, and
DeVenCI adds five or six more.
Then we do a tech scrub of what they offer and get it down to 10 or 11
companies, said Michael Dingman, DeVenCIs communications expert, under
contract from ITT.
Representatives from each of those companies are invited to make a
presentation at a workshop that DeVenCI hosts for DOD acquisition
employees. Each company has 20 minutes to demonstrate its product and
The topical workshops are where DeVenCI spends the bulk of its budget:
$2.8 million for this year. Last months workshop focused on network
infrastructure. A March workshop presented identity management
technologies. Other topics include applied cryptography, information
delivery and security management tools.
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