Department of Defense expands tech startup to Austin

Defense innovation unit experimental program

AUSTIN - The U.S. Department of Defense is expanding its groundbreaking tech startup initiative to Austin.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter joined with city leaders Wednesday at the Capital Factory to announce the creation of a new Austin branch of its Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) program.

Among the many young tech entrepreneurs at Austin's startup incubator, Navy veteran Marcus Carey can't share all the details of his resume.

"I helped do all kinds of pretty cool super-secret stuff -- stuff that I can't talk about or I'd have to kill you kind of stuff," laughed Carey, who is turning his eight years of Navy cryptology experience into a cyber security business called,"Threat". "We created a software that imitates hackers on networks and helps organizations determine what machines can be hacked."

For most trying to get a startup off the ground, getting funding is a challenge.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense launched DIUx, an initiative aimed to link tech startups with defense programs. Joined by state Rep. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), University of Texas at Austin President Greg Fenves and system chancellor Bill McRaven, a retired admiral, Carter announced plans Wednesday to open a new Austin hub.

Carter said coming to Austin "made perfect sense," due to the city's strong connection to both the tech industry and nearby military posts, such as Campy Mabry and Fort Hood. The area's large number of reservists with tech experience was another factor. Austin joins two other hubs already operating in Silicon Valley and Boston. 

"They've closed five deals just in the last three months and took an average of just over fifty days after they first interacted with a company to award these funds. 

"That's fast," Carter boasted. "They have another 22 more projects already in the pipeline for an additional $65 million in areas like network defense, autonomous seafaring drones and virtual war gaming." 

"It's gonna make a big difference to our country," Carter told media during a Q&A session following the announcement. As for the difference to the Austin economy, Carter told KVUE, "We spend almost $600 billion a year on national defense, and $72 billion of that just on research and development alone."

"So the real answer to your question is we're connecting Austin's innovators to that huge need and that huge set of problem sets," Carter continued, "And it will dispense funds itself and in partnership with all our armed services, all our defense agencies, all our mission areas and this is the place where they will get introduced."

Chris Kirchoff, one of four DIUx managing partners appointed by Carter, explained the projects are diverse.

"They run the gamut from some cyber security software to some drones that perform more fighting missions to an autonomous sailboat," said Kirchoff.

"Texas is the new frontier in innovation, and with the arrival of DIUx, the Department of Defense’s best technologists will be right here in Austin," Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) said in a statement thanking Carter. "A DIUx outpost in Austin leverages two of Texas’ greatest strengths – our enduring commitment to the mightiest military in the history of the world and our faith in the innovators who drive this thriving economy."

It's a major opportunity for funding, and for veteran entrepreneurs, perhaps something more.

"I've always had that protect everybody mindset and serving concept," said Carter. "So it's definitely great that I can build something to help out people, and definitely help out troops and help out the mission of keeping our country safe."

(© 2016 KVUE)


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