The U.S. Department of Defense is sponsoring a competition to find the most innovative technology coming from Israeli startups for combating terrorism
For the second year in a row, the U.S. Department of Defense is sponsoring a competition to find the most innovative technology coming from Israeli startups for combating terrorism.
Slated for June 7 during the Combating Terrorism Technology Conference, the competition finalists will be invited to pitch their products for a shot at a $100,000 prize and a chance to gain valuable exposure to high level decision makers in the defense sector. Second place walks away with a respectable $10,000.
Along with the technology challenge, they are introducing a search for mobile app solutions in a second competition that also comes with a $100,000 cash prize to be shared between the selected winners.
As opposed to last year, the competition will allow entries for cyber security products, one of the hottest current tech trends.
Standing behind the competition is the DoD’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO/TSWG). The CTTSO is a rapid prototyping office that looks for technological solutions to pressing operational needs brought to them by counter terrorism personnel in the field, and works with a wide range of defense industry and external partners to develop and deliver effective solutions.
Over the years, they have found cases where products that were developed for the commercial market held vast potential for meeting the needs of their field operators, driving more of a focus to the startup scene.
Along with the CTTSO, the event is being backed by Israel’s Ministry of Defense Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) and the MIT Enterprise Forum of Israel, in conjunction with Tel Aviv University’s Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business.
The Combating Terrorism Technology Startup program is an initiative of the MIT Enterprise Forum of Israel, under the auspices of Board Member and Program Chair Gideon Miller and Executive Director of the forum Ayla Matalon.
Reaching out to untapped sources for new perspectives on problem solving
Among the special guests who will be attending the event is Adam Tarsi, who serves as Chief of Staff at the CTTSO. He spoke with Geektime about what his office is looking to get out of this event and why Israeli innovation is an important voice in the global effort to combat terrorism.
Tarsi says that in searching for solutions, his organization tries to cast the widest net possible. While they reach out through standard channels like defense contractors, he explains that a number of years ago they recognized the opportunity to engage with what he calls nontraditional providers, such as crowdsourcing models, venture capitalists and strategic investors, and their five bilateral partners that include the UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore, and Israel.
He notes that the DoD has gone as far as to open an office in Silicon Valley for engaging with the tech community.
One of the key parts of Tarsi’s position is communicating with the entrepreneurial community, bridging their interests with the needs of the U.S. security establishment.
“The scourge of terrorism impacts us all and we can use the brainpower that they are developing,” he says, adding that, “They can still make market, win resources, and be successful in their primary customer market while supporting U.S. and Israeli government needs.”
Israel, he explains, has developed different expertise and a way of looking at problems that adds an important element to the conversation for coming up with solutions.
“The best part of my relationship with Israel isn’t additional resources, but the ability to find solutions that I wouldn’t have found in my own backyard,” he says.
Tarsi explains that Israelis have a unique ability to develop solutions and get them into the field faster than with any other country with whom he has worked. He cites the demand caused by Israel’s security challenges as an impetus for the high pace of implementation.
How to put together a winning entry
While Tarsi says that he does not know what bolt of lightning will hit him at this year’s competition and is open to all sorts of ideas, he did highlight certain sectors as being of particular interest.
He cites the fields of advanced tactical analytics, machine and deep learning, detection for explosives, chemical and biological agents, surveillance, countering UAVs, and of course physical security.
“The ability to protect individuals and groups from attacks will never go out of style,” Tarsi explains.
In describing what he is looking for in a winning team at the competition, Tarsi says that they should show experience or have strong mentorship behind them. His team is looking for companies that have an enduring business structure and will be around after the competition so that they can buy the capability when it is ready for market.
“It’s not just the technology innovation that matters, I need a capability,” he explains in describing what he is looking for in the winning team. “Without the ability to provide some kind of manufacturing controls, at least in the low rate initial production end, to stay with intolerances, to meet technical thresholds, then I don’t have a solution; I’ve just got a neat idea.”
He adds that his organization and their partners can help startups reach that stage, gaining added mentorship and other resources.
They have been able to help smaller Israeli companies partner with larger American companies, creating a pathway to tap into the highly prized U.S. market. Thankfully he notes that they have not run into issues of information security in this process.
Speaking with Tomer Goshon, the CTO at Insoundz, the Israeli startup that walked away with the win from last year (pictured in the featured image), he says that one of the benefits of taking part in the competition was that they were able to understand the needs outside of their own sector and learned to present their product better. It especially gave them a boost in how they were able to move forward in planning out their business model.
He advises teams here to come as prepared as possible regarding their business model and be up on the core competence of the product. In particular, he tells entrepreneurs to, “Be able to express the special potential of the product as it relates to counter terrorism.”
Startups looking to enter the running are encouraged to send their entries by the March 4 deadline. Information on entering the competition is available from the MIT Forum website.