If I told you that your familiar old sofa had enough money between its cushions for you to buy a beach house, would you throw it away, or would you take the time to hunt between the cushions to find the money? When I look at how our community has traditionally treated opportunities to bring entrepreneurs and national security technology together, I suspect that we've been giving away the proverbial sofa. I think we need to change that.
The Washington region has the highest concentration of national security agencies in the United States. This is very important. For more than 100 years, our national economic progress has been led by industries funded and fostered by our national security establishment. Countless innovations that you know about (Siri, GPS, semiconductors and biotechnology) and some you don’t (thought-controlled artificial limbs, 4D data presentation, bendable metals, and proteomics) are developed every year under the guidance of our national security agencies.
Many of the conversations in our region entrepreneurship and start-up formation tend to separate entrepreneurship from national security. We act as if they are unrelated, pointing to Silicon Valley as a template for the companies we should grow and the industries that we should build our companies in. And, in so doing we make three big mistakes:
- We buy into a flawed mythology that Silicon Valley’s success shows that there is no role for national security innovation, when in truth Silicon Valley’s very existence is tied to national security research and development and requirements.
- We do not appreciate that the true measure of a region is not the start-ups it forms, but the businesses that it grows and sustains. A review of merger and acquisition data for a six-year period that I published in 2012 demonstrated that regions grow a vibrant and sustainable start-up ecosystem when businesses are grown that are most connected to a region’s largest companies.
- By looking elsewhere for regions to copy, we do not see the advantages that we have with our own. We act as if government and entrepreneurship, government services and products, and tech commercialization and start-up success are separate activities. In fact, when they combine is where we are most innovative as a nation.
I believe that by integrating all that we have and breaking down the artificial silos that separate our many attributes, we can take advantage of our region’s strengths. That is what TandemNSI does. We have created a community to connect entrepreneurs and the national security agencies that are the funders and consumers of advanced technologies. In a short time we have created a vibrant and growing community of entrepreneurs, and are delivering the message to a government more and more motivated to find innovation from new sources, that those sources are here in the Washington, DC region. We hope you'll join us at Collaborate to continue the conversation.
Jonathan Aberman is the Founder and Managing Director of TandemNSI and Amplifier Ventures. He is also a Lecturer at the RH Smith School of Business and founder and Chair of FounderCorps. When not working with entrepreneurs to start great companies, he is the co-host of Leftjab Radio, nationally broadcast on SiriusXM Radio and lead guitarist of Two Car Living Room.