Mike Madsen, partner at the Defense Innovation Unit, said today that DIU is preparing to wrap up its search for a new managing director who will help guide activities at DIU, the newly-elevated commercial sector outreach wing of the Department of Defense.

“As you may have heard, Dr. [Michael] Griffin has been looking for a new managing director for DIU for about the last six months. My understanding is we’re rapidly approaching the end of that, and we expect an announcement in the next couple weeks,” Madsen said.

Griffin is the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, the DoD CTO, and oversees the activities of DIU, a DoD innovation accelerator that partners with Silicon Valley and tech upstarts to rapidly fund and prototype technology solutions.

Madsen, speaking today at an event hosted by the Professional Services Council, also went into detail about the successful efforts of DIU to date, saying, “we want to infect the system, we want to spread what we’re doing, and we also want to represent a portal for talent into the Department of Defense.”

“Our goals are to connect the most important and most challenging Department of Defense national security problems to commercial solutions faster,” Madsen said. “And we want to do this more effectively, cost-effectively, by saving more than we actually cost.”

Madsen participated in a recent Section 809 Panel for defense acquisition reform, and today relayed some of the interactions there, with “about 100 CEOs in Silicon Valley and Seattle,” that would eventually help inform policies in the recently approved National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2019.

He said many of those CEOs expressed concerns about entering the defense marketplace–effectively punting on a $700 billion market, Madsen noted–with concerns that “it’s too complicated, it’s too expensive, it’s too hard, it takes too long.”

He suggested that DIU could be the answer to that problem. “To meet our goals of going faster, we look to award prototype OTA [other transaction authority] contracts within 60 to 90 days. That’s pretty fast. The fastest we’ve done is 31. We’re averaging about 100,” Madsen said.

He said that DIU also aims to cut down on massive DoD requirement documents used to describe desired capabilities. Instead, DIU puts requests into “words that the tech industry understands,” typically no longer than half a page, sometimes no more than a couple of sentences, he noted.

He further compared DIU’s process to a “shark tank” environment where innovators compete for funding based on the short solicitations – a nod to the popular investment reality TV show.

Madsen explained that he’s now seeing evidence that others are trying to replicate the DIU model–infecting the system, so to speak–across the DoD, military service branches, and at civilian agencies. “We’re excited to see our methodology spreading, and that is certainly a mark of success, we feel.”

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Joe Franco
Joe Franco
Joe Franco is a Program Manager, covering IT modernization, cyber, and government IT policy for MeriTalk.com.