What is the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum?

The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum is a not-for-profit network of emerging defense leaders, civilian innovators, and social entrepreneurs who promote a culture of innovation and act upon transformational ideas that address national security challenges.

What is DEF’s goal?

We believe that the complexity of national security necessitates Defense professionals with innovative solutions. We believe that great ideas do not depend on rank and that creative problem solving cannot be developed rapidly. Today’s junior and mid-grade Defense professionals will be the future military leadership of this country.

  • Inspire:  By attracting diverse, passionate, and innovative individuals, DEF inspires individuals through a community of like-minded national security innovators.
  • Connect:  In person and virtually, DEF is a network that connects innovative thinkers who seek to improve on the status quo and educates them on how to do this.
  • Empower:  Through a variety of methods--from idea generation to senior-leader engagement--DEF empowers junior leaders to be change agents in national security.


DEF in the News

"Military Innovation Requires the Right Kind of Entrepreneur" by Matthew Fay in Niskansen Center Blog, June 9th, 2016

"Defense Entrepreneurship: How to Build Institutions for Innovation Inside the Military" by Jim Hasik in Joint Force Quarterly, March 29, 2016

"How to Discover Defense Innovation" by Mark Jacobsen, Nate Finner, Joe Byerly, Mikhail Grinberg, Roxanne Bras and Darryl Diptee in War on the Rocks, October 16, 2014

"The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum Developing a Culture of Innovation" by Curtis Taylor and Nate Finney in Military Review, July-August 2014

"Fostering Military Entrepreneurs" by Benjamin Kohlmann, Lindsay Rodman, Nathan Finney, and Jeff Gilmore in Armed Forces Journal, December 14, 2013

"Why the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum Matters: Peripheral Networks & Innovation" by Mark Jacobsen, Nate Finney, and Ben Kohlmann in War on the Rocks, October 21, 2013

"Constructive Disruption: The Defense Entrepreneur's Forum" by the DEF Board in Small Wars Journal Blog, April 5th 2013


The Spark - How DEF Came to Life

While the original article on Disruptive Thinking was focused on leveraging education, we recognize that warfighting must always come first in any conversation about innovation and the military.  This is inimically tied to the fact that people, not tech, are our greatest assets.

Immediately after the publication of the aforementioned article, members of what are now the DEF Board observed incredibly informative and coherent arguments related to military strategy and innovation over social media. Through many conversations via Twitter and Facebook, it became apparent that disparate networks of individuals, spanning all ranks and services, were effectively fleshing out the most pressing issues of the day in non-traditional ways.

It also became apparent that innovators have inherent ways of finding each other.  As their distributed networks grow, cross-cultural (and cross-rank) engagement increases.   Though they never meet, some even become close friends.  There is a unique power in informal networks created by personal interactions, even if they begin in cyberspace.

Yet something was missing in this process.  That element was the intangible benefit of seeing your intellectual sparring partner face to face.  The discussions on Twitter, Facebook and various national security forums for emerging military leaders needed to come out of the virtual world and into the physical one.

While discussing this power of networking and the need for an in-person forum to build the relationships required to effect change, the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum was born.

Soon after inception, our personal networks pointed us towards the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, where they not only found a world class institution, but a strong veterans group.  Leveraging the military experience and entrepreneurial education of recent veterans who are still engaged in national defense dialogue was a perfect fit.

Subsequently, the Executive Board was recruited and, quite inadvertently, spanned the armed services.  Many were asked to join based on their disruptive writings – others because they were known practitioners of innovation. All are focused on creating a compelling experience that will unite, excite and build relational networks that will span careers.