For our final Business as Usual webcast, we will welcome T. Ryan Whelan of the Department of Defense's Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). DIU strengthens our national security by accelerating the adoption of commercial technology throughout the military and growing the national security innovation base.
Whelan will detail how DIU partners with organizations across the Department of Defense (DoD), from the services and components to combatant commands and defense agencies, to rapidly prototype and field advanced commercial solutions that address national security challenges. With offices in Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, and the Pentagon, DIU connects its DoD partners with leading technology companies across the country.
So good afternoon, everyone, this is Audrey Russo, and today is Friday, June 4. And why I say that date out loud is because this is the final session of business as usual. And I will make some remarks at the close of the event about our plans for the future, which we've already started. But now I want to thank several key groups and organizations. So first, I would like to thank all of you who ever has joined us today, we have had almost 6000 people join us over I think, three, almost 300 interviews. And we try to provide relevancy each and every day about everything that was happening, or in our worlds. And it's just, it was just an incredible experience. I can't tell you how much work has gone into this. It's been a lot, I want to give a shout out to Brian Kennedy, who really has been the wizard behind the scenes in you know, making sure we have the right people up into on the right topics, doing the research that we needed to do to prepare for each and every day. Because we really, this is not something that we just do extemporaneously, it takes takes a lot of research and time, I want to thank Jonathan Kersting each and every day outside of the show, is actually has been working on telling stories highlighting this community and just shouting from the rooftops for almost a quarter century. And we have some fun things in store on that as well. So just because we're ending business as usual, you know, people are going to lunch people are having lives. And and it's time for us to be part of this new this new world in this next chapter, which includes our pivot. So I want to give deep appreciation to Huntington bank, I have said each and every day that they are amazing partner, they really are they have believed in us. We've taken chances, we've done a lot of experiments, both Jonathan and I, and they have stood by us encouraged us and just been incredible partners. And if you don't know them by now, you need to, and you know, they really believe in me and our deep roots in terms of their civic engagement. at&t joined us throughout the series as we focused on public policy, but at&t really stepped up to the plate as they always do, in making sure that people need it particularly at the onset of COVID. And particularly as we started to rapidly see the lack of access and connectivity, at&t was there. And the things that we did with the food bank, the things that we did in raising money for laptops and making sure people are connected. I can't thank at&t for their support of us in all things public policy. And I also want to give deep shout to the Jewish health care foundation and Karen Feinstein for Also joining us on this journey. And we're not continued with that journey with any of these sponsors. We also have a lot ahead in terms of our partnership with the Jewish health care Foundation, and really looking at health care and high tech and what the duration is, and particularly what we learned from this journey. So I want to thank the hundreds of guest speakers, we have everything there on YouTube, hundreds of speakers just crazy, amazing people, each and in their own right, incredible things to drive, not just the economy across Pittsburgh, but even outside in the world because we have a lot of those people from outside the region helping us breathe life into. So thank you for joining us on your lunch breaks or whatever you did at noon. If you're like me, you slept long into the morning and then started your day, perhaps at a different time. And on that note, I just want to move into our guest for today. This is a great way to wrap up this series. And we have with us Ryan Whelan, and he is at the defense innovation unit and talk a little bit about that in a moment. And we've muted your microphones we Jonathan is gonna be looking at questions and opportunities to ask Brian some questions. But I want to thank everyone for just being our partners and everything that we do giving us feedback. We are nothing without all of you and I just can't thank you enough. So let's get started. So Romulan, so thrilled to have you today and welcome before we talk about the defense innovation unit in the world. Your organization plays and helping the Department of Defense find solutions to so many of their key problems. Who is Ryan? Can we just know just learn a little bit about you? And then we're gonna jump into your current role at the innovation unit?
Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks for having me on Audrey, I think, you know, this series that you guys put on is really fascinating. I wasn't aware of it before. And then Brian shared it, shared it with us, I think it's a really great opportunity. One of the things we're trying to do at the IU is actually do you know, kind of expand our engagement, because I think similarly, folks don't necessarily know who we are. And I know you guys have heard from a number of other organizations and kind of the defense innovation ecosystem. So I look forward to talking about that a little bit today. But but me so I'm actually I'm actually at EIU. Currently as a fellow. So I'm what they're calling an industry innovation fellow or an entrepreneur in residence, I sit within their cyber portfolio, I'm on civic leave from my company, I usually, you know, my full time job is back at fireeye mandiant. He's been in the news for a number of things for the last six months. But so I run globally, I run all the the intelligence services for the mandiant business. And then I'm here though I took it, I started civically, back in August of last year, it'll be with the IU through August of this year, supporting their cyber portfolio, things like tech, scouting, you know, industry outreach, things like that kind of evangelizing the US mission, to try and bring in, you know, new and innovative tech, you know, non standard technologies, new vendors, with the Department of Defense, right. And so that's kind of, you know, we'll talk more about that. how I got here, I, you know, I started as a as a military guy, still an army officer on the reserve side, I did time doing contracting, I did time as a, as a consultant, tech consultant for a long time, some deployments in there and then ended up kind of making my way through through mandiant. I was at a big four, I was at PwC. Before, before mandiant. So that's kind of me in a nutshell, I'm happy to talk more about that as well. I'm also happy to kind of talk more about civic leave, if that becomes something that's of interest, because I something I'd definitely want to push more within industry, because I think it's a really good way to drive public private partnerships and deeper understanding of both, you know, the government side and commercial side perspectives. So
well, it's great. So you want to talk about some of the objectives of the D Iu? And I'm not I'm trying not to get it flipped up to say, Do you I want to talk more about the D IU, and what the key objectives are and some of the market sectors that people need to be thinking about in terms of the opportunities? Well, I will and I will talk about everything, it cuts across everything?
It does, it does. And I'll pull up some slides. Hopefully you can see that. Okay. I'm not one to talk about, you know, talk off the slides constantly. But I think it's a good reference point. I also shared some of these with you, guys. Adri so I think the members can see the slides, but frankly, this is on this is on the website. Right? But so you know, do you use mission at the end of the day, right? Do you is born of a need to continue to advance, you know, kind of innovative technology adoption, within the Department of Defense, as we all know, right. And as you all know, as vendors, many of you who do business with the government on multiple levels, the government is a challenging beast to engage and do business with, you know, we have a system that, you know, for better or for worse, you know, kind of rewards the large companies who have the, you know, who have the overhead to spend on you know, putting a lot of time and investment, things like that to going after large enterprise style contracts and, you know, kind of running, they make the process for how to go through the traditional acquisition system. And there's a lot of goods, you know, that that exist on the traditional acquisition side, there's a reason it became what it is. But, you know, the concern is that it excludes, you know, new and innovative companies don't have the overhead to spend there. And, frankly, they want the overhead they do have, they want to be spending it on continuing to innovate and continue to drive growth and continue to drive, you know, their product to a state of readiness that they need to make it do with the you know, to solve the problems that they're trying to solve. And so di us whole mission is to try and bring in and kind of open, you know, lower barriers to entry to, you know, small businesses to startups that are bringing new technologies that are mission critical, that have the ability to transform the way we do business, into the Department of Defense. And so that's really what you know, what we're trying to do, there's obviously an added benefit of the more that we can do that right, the more we strengthen the nation's, you know, innovation base, and the more we kind of reward those new ideas, which we need to do in order to kind of remain at the cutting edge from a national security perspective. And so, I think that's really important. You're right, we span I'm gonna flip through a couple of slides here. So sorry, I'm gonna skip over a couple of things that I have in here but that you guys don't necessarily need to see. But or I'll talk to if we need to, but for you know, where does do you focus? I mean, yeah, the answer Audrey is we kind of focus across the board. We kind of focus Everywhere, right, so we have, it used to be five now six portfolios. So we just added advanced energy and materials this year is the newest portfolio, I like I said spend most of my time kind of advising the cyber portfolio, there's a lot of crossover with a IML, there's a lot of crossover into autonomy, you know, as we consider cybersecurity for those types of systems, human systems, think about anything that kind of touches the, you know, the confluence of, you know, human interaction with technology, right, so a lot of our medical type projects are run out of human systems and things like that. And then space, obviously, receipt, we're seeing a rapid acceleration of commercial space technologies. So it's, it's sensible, that we're there. So realistically, you can kind of drive a truck through any one of these portfolios, and I think have, you know, have fit, you know, so but the bottom line is, you know, we're, we're on the lookout for, you know, the best technology possible, that's going to help advance the defense mission. It's probably worth noting, with that, just this slide, that we always try and work with defense end users, right. So we're not an end user organization ourselves, we're trying to facilitate a more efficient acquisition process for, you know, new and innovative companies. But what we're trying to do is, is, you know, one of the things we want to do is we want to bridge you know, that that adoption valley of death. And so we one of the ways we've gone about doing that is to always bring kind of the defense end user to the table rather than us investing in tech and then trying to shop it around. We want an end user who's invested in transition and that technology from the beginning. And so the other benefit, I think of working with us is we're going to, you know, we're going to make those connections to whether it's the services or co com, or, you know, a large department within the Department of Defense. You know, I think all those are options, but that's kind of how we operate. And I can talk more about this model or kind of take it whatever direction works best for
Well, yeah, I mean, I think it's important for people to sort of understand this, and I appreciate you getting getting right to this, and you talked about one of the valley of death, what what kinds of what sort of like the profile of the potential companies,
right? Yeah, absolutely. That's a great question. Yeah. Yeah, the profiles a great question, because we do have kind of a specific profile that we're looking for. But that doesn't mean that if you don't fit that profile, you shouldn't engage with God, it means that there's other organizations that are like our sister organizations that are the right places to engage. So in terms of where, what are we looking for, right? So we are, we're really looking at convert, you know, commercially validated companies who already have technology in existence, right, that have a certain level of commercial customers, right, that are that are using that technology today, right. So as a company that is kind of just building or just, you know, just investing and trying to kind of refine and get ready, the technology that they're put together is probably not quite mature enough for a D IU project yet. Because what we're trying to do is say, hey, you have you know, company x, you have, you have a, you know, you have an automation technology that is right for us and God, you already have, you know, 50 customers on the commercial side, we know that it is, you know, you can demo the product, we know that it exists, because you're using it already commercially, clearly commercial customers are getting value out of it. So the fact that you know, that that commercial use provides some validation that the company and the product is legitimate. And what we're saying is, okay, we're gonna do we do everything on other transaction authorities, and we're gonna say we're gonna take you know, that product, understand that it's in commercial use today, it may not be 100% ready for God use. So we're gonna put you on a prototype otaa contract in order to kind of build, you know, feature build, or dev out that product, the last full mile to get it ready for do D use. Now, the way we run these, you know, this solicitations is they're competitive upfront, so you compete with others who have a solution and whatever the problem space is that we've defined in order to win that prototype otaa contract, but once you perform, you know, once you're selected, and if you perform well under the prototype otaa, we can move directly to transition without additional competition, which is helpful, right? So that upfront competition is counts as for all the competition needs, and the agency can go directly to a production contract, which are obviously can be multi year, you know, higher dollar contracts on the back end of that. And that's how we've kind of looked at bridging that that gap now for earlier stage companies, depending on where they are, maybe they're, you know, they're really kind of idea phase going into just probably, you know, just trying to get a product off the ground. That's, that's better for like the lab ecosystem that we have and some of those, you know, thinking like Army Research Labs, Air Force Research Labs, and so we collaborate with them to get you know, to to push folks to them and pull, you know, new ideas out of them. As those mature for kind of companies in between that might be really early kind of earlier earlier, maybe they have initial product ready, but it's not, you know, it's not quite totally validated yet not commercially. There's organizations like the national security Innovation Network that runs challenges. There's organizations like national security, innovation capital, that's looking at investing in dually, you know, dual use technology, you know, and then obviously, the the plethora of accelerators and things like that that exists that can also be leveraged to engage God. So
so I think that have a question. Jonathan, do you want to ask a question from Dave?
Absolutely. I've asked many questions from Dave domains over the past year, and suddenly,
and I miss Dave, I'm going to miss Dave, Dave, you're going to have to stay connected to our next iteration.
Exactly. So I have a little tear in my eye, possibly, as I read this. So here's what we got. Dave says we collectively as citizens, professionals and political leaders seem to continually falling deeper over many years until a vulnerable it landscape that has significant implications for everyone's quality life, on what is going to be brought to the table in a major way that is going to reverse that trend, notwithstanding the massive amount of it innovation has arrived over the same timeframe. That was a lightweight question this
way. Can you can you just say the first part of that again, I want to make sure I was clear on there or
Yeah, basically, we collectively as citizens, really had seemed to have continually falling deeper over many years into a vulnerable it landscape that has significant implications for every healthy life, it's going to be brought to the table in a major way that is going to reverse this trend, notwithstanding the massive amount of it innovation has arrived over that same time frame, on even this goal, but more innovation keeps coming. How do we get out of that hole?
Yeah, absolutely. Look, I'm gonna drop the slides for now, Andrew, but if I need to know, but, but so No, look, I think it's a great question. And I wish I could say that, like we're about to solve the whole thing, because that would, that would be nice. I think there's, there's a few problems that we've had, some of which will persist, and we just need to be ready to deal with them, some of which we, we can certainly reverse I think, have been smarter than one is. One is just, you know, security has kind of persistently been and I don't think this is necessarily going to go away. Security usually comes in as a secondary thought, right? It becomes a, you know, something, you know, a feature add, or something that has to has to be, you know, layered on top of technology, as it you know, as it graduates into broader use. Because obviously, we need to provide provide security for our customers, we need to provide security for our partners or, you know, and frankly, our vendors and other folks that we interact with, but you know, if you know, if I'm, if I'm starting, you know, I usually start or build a new piece of technology to solve a specific problem. And so I'm thinking about solving that problem. I'm not thinking necessarily about how I keep that part, it's not a criticism of it, that's just kind of how your ideas and innovation cycle works. I think we're getting better about, about thinking about security upfront, both because of the volume of incidents, I mean, you can't turn on the TV, you can't turn on the radio or, you know, podcast, whatever it is that we're listening to these days, without hearing about kind of a new attack without hearing about a new ransomware, you know, event and things like that, we know, I think I think increasingly, the awareness level of awareness is, is is making its way into our consciousness. And some of these things like solar winds, you know, has really drawn attention to the supply chain problem and the risk not only of our, you know, hardware supply chain, which I think we've kind of known about more materially, but now understanding, you know, more deeply, you know, the reality of risks in the software supply chain. And so I do think, you know, you look at the new executive order, I think you look at the President's proposed budget, there's certainly a policy push to, you know, to start to move out to put the rights or at least better protections in place to get better visibility on our software supply chain and start doing things like, you know, hey, you know, if this is built on some sort of open source code, was that open source code flawed from the beginning? You know, have we that, you know, have we accounted for those flaws and those vulnerabilities? So I think that's, you know, I think, I think those are some signals in the right direction on the policy front, there's technology that makes all of that a lot easier to automate. And, you know, you can you can, you can run code through checkers and things like that in a much more efficient manner today than you could you know, you could before there's companies, obviously, that specialize in that, and I wouldn't wouldn't surprise me Now, obviously, at an organizational and agency level, organizations are invested in that kind of capability today, I think we need kind of more of a whole of government approach to some of that probably not get to an efficient whole government approach ever. Maybe but, but doubtful, but we'll try which is good. You know, I think the other the other challenge though, is just we're flawed as human beings right? And you look at the you look at you know, we still have you know, the the plethora of initial entry vectors into Oregon. For compromises is around, you know, just human error, right clicking on a link that comes in a phishing email or something like that, or now, clicking on a link that comes through a LinkedIn contact or something like that, that I didn't, that I didn't realize was, was malicious. And you know, to it so so we're we're getting to, you know, that those vulnerabilities that human error is never going to go away. So, you know, getting to the level of fidelity, you know, new technologies that are allowing us to protect, you know, data, you know, crown jewels, and things like that at the, you know, at the data level, at the data layer. And really being able to kind of secure with high fidelity, and to different degrees of protection, where you can still allow kind of efficient network operations and efficient, you know, use of IT systems without bogging it down, but protecting, you know, the most important data at it, you know, at a level of security that, you know, buys down risk significantly enough for a company, I think there's a lot of technologies moving in that space, as well. And then you have the whole, you know, all the secure cloud and kind of Secure Access Management pieces that are that are moving. But to be honest with you, you know, I feel like, right now, the biggest challenge for us is, it's not usually as always, it's not usually on the technology front, there's a ton of technology that can help us in a number of ways. It's on the policy on how are we going to adopt that technology? Do we have acquisition processes efficient enough to get it in? And I think we're making the right strides to get there. You know, but but we're, you know, I think the risk, or the concern, at least from national security perspective is, you know, are we moving fast enough to stay ahead of our adversaries? And add, I don't know, at least universally, I don't think we are yet. So
no, I think that's probably true. So john scarpino has another question. Yeah.
So how do you partner with colleges and universities? really keep an eye out for education around cybersecurity? professionals?
Yeah, so that's a great question. So do you have one specific program that I highlight that is called the Cambridge project that's run out of our Boston office, you know, in a partner now with Harvard and MIT and a couple others to kind of get them involved in helping to basically kind of essentially project was to working with defense end users, and coming up with, you know, an idea for a project that can then be graduated that we can go out and solicit solutions for things that's, that's di us kind of, you know, most significant academic engagement, I mean, aside from like, discussions and things like that, the National Security Innovation Network, which is a which is a reporting organization to the IU really has kind of a an earlier stage mission, like I mentioned before, so they run hacking for defense, which is basically putting out a bunch of, you know, defense related problems and allowing companies to start solutioning against those problems, obviously, to drive you know, Innovation Development in that direction. They have, they have a number of they actually have University directors that are controlled at a regional level, so broken up regionally across the nation, that do specific University engagement running projects and programs that are similar to like the Cambridge project, but at a much broader and a much broader level. So our, for kind of the defense innovation ecosystem, I'd say n cin, national security Innovation Network is kind of the belly button for that kind of academic engagement. That's one of their kind of core pillars of focus. We have a few projects like the Cambridge one, I may you know, over time here, he's trying to start another one up actually in an out of Chicago. But you know, so we'll have some, but I think we'll always drive that through Ensign, and happy to put you guys in touch with or Audrey, you know, if it makes sense, to your your your sessions, get some of the Ensign representation on here to talk to you guys more about there. Now,
we've definitely I mean, I think one of the things is we want to make sure that we have a de IU visit Pittsburgh and spend time visiting with companies that are here. So we'll follow up.
That'd be great. Yeah, look, everybody's gonna want to travel as soon as possible. So
we've been out, but I mean, it would be great for you to, you know, for the team there to really see what's happening here. And so then lastly, you have your role is actually special, you know, at the CIA, you actually are heading back into the private sector. And I love this kind of toggling back and forth because I think that's where the tremendous value is. Can you are there opportunities for people in Pittsburgh to join the DI unit similar kind of fellowship?
So I think the short answer is yes. The longer answer is I'm the first one of these that we've done. And so I think we're trying to learn, you know how to do them. The project. The program that I'm on is actually called the cyber Information Technology exchange program. It's relatively new. It's run out of the DLD CIOs office, but you can google it cyber information. Technology exchange program, there's information, you know, online, it'll come up on that, I'm going to let my dog inside who's right outside my door. Because my wife, I'm sure she's trying to get to the kids Oh, and his toy. So I didn't get problems, but so so that program is theoretically open to any company that wants to partner with it. And then and then there's other programs, right, I'd highlight things like Presidential Innovation Fellows, which has gotten a lot of a lot of attention, which doesn't necessarily feed just to D IU, but obviously feeds into government holistically to drive more innovation, you know, technologically considered innovation, and things like that. And I actually suspect I'm in a, I'm in a process right now of trying to hunt down and understand what programs like the sidestep program are available across God, because I suspect there's actually far more than we realize, that had been stood up in silos. And you know, we haven't kind of taken broad accounting of them. So I'm working with a group of folks, some some Presidential Innovation Fellows, some former Presidential Innovation Fellows, to take account of that, because we'd like to do is push civic leave as something that companies start to invest in as well, right, and make that open to folks to to, you know, as a career progression opportunity to go into government get some time there. Because I think on the industry side, we tend to underestimate sometimes some of the technology talent that exists in government is there really is some good tech talent. And I think on the government side, they tend to underestimate, you know, we tend to see industry, as you know, for profit, and you know, driving a bottom line and not as mission focus is, frankly, so much, you know, you talk to pretty much any CEO, any any executive leader in industry, and they're patriotic at the end of the day, right? Just different conditional lines a little bit differently. So, I think, you know, breaking down those barriers is only going to be helpful and is frankly, in our system, and in our society, probably how we're going to drive the type of public private collaboration, we need to compete, you know, long term. So
yeah, we love that. I personally love that. And I'm sure Brian Kennedy who's our on our government affair side, it can really see, you know, that it creates a dimension that is totally underestimated, and it's transformative. So I can't thank you, Ryan, thank you so much for joining us, really appreciate it. You know, just jumping in and telling us a little bit about the work, we'll put the link out, we'll share it. Maybe some people will reach out to you on LinkedIn, it won't be it won't be any kind of phishing, but it'll certainly be people from Pittsburgh that might want to reach out to you look to connect, and with the team back at your ranch. CLI, they'll come back. And we'll come to Pittsburgh, and understand what's happening here. So thank you. And that brings us to the end of today's session. Thank you. For you know, being here. For those of you who my earlier remarks, I just want to say that this is a final session of business as usual. It's an honor, it's been a privilege for me to come into your homes come into your life. And listen to the makeshift offices that we've all been operating out of and their dogs and their cats in their family and their spouses and their kids. It's just been just an honor 15 months of this each and every day, almost 6000 people. And again, think deep thanks to Brian Kennedy for making sure this happens. And my partner climb on many things in terms of marketing and media is Jonathan Kersting. And for all the people in the scenes that make it work on our team, we have a whole team of people that are just incredible. So we're very proud to have served, you know, all of you during the pandemic. And like never before we've been able to cap string through this series, each of our more than 280 300 sessions of business, as usual are available on our YouTube channel. And we've decided to sign off today by launching a marathon business as usual by taking you all the way back to the first session that we held on March 23 2020. And if we kept playing the entire series, it would run continuously for six full days. So feel free to stick around with us. Share your experience, give us feedback, let us know in the chat session. I'm gonna hang out for a little bit. So what's next? So what's next is if you know us, you know that we always have something up our sleeve and we're always trying to be ahead of the game and doing pivots. So first of all, we're looking forward to connecting with all of you in person and very soon. Our first in person program kicks off this month we're working as quickly as possible to bring even more exciting opportunities to you. So in terms of a virtual programs, we're also proud To be kicking off a new series called Beyond business as usual. And we will do that on June 17, at 2pm. So not during your lunch time, and it is going to be with Pennsylvania State Representative at gaming, and who just run won the Democratic primary for the mayor, office. So I hope to see you soon. Once again, thank you for everything. Thanks for believing in us. Really appreciate all of you. In many ways, it seems bittersweet, but I can't believe we've been doing it this long. And we know it's time it's time for a change. So Brian, you want to you want to let the real run
about 75 employees, but during 2001, we went from 45 people to 14 people. So it was really difficult. In 2008, we again, market starts to go down more
Transcribed by https://otter.ai