The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum is pleased to reveal the 2018 Firestarter Fellowship Selection Board.

The Board is chaired by Lt. Gen. David Barno, USA (ret), a Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at the School of International Service at American University and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center at the Atlantic Council. He was senior American commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003–2005. Barno was a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He has published extensively and testified before Congress numerous times. He writes the Strategic Outpost column with Dr. Nora Bensahel.

Vice Chair and Firestarter Team Lead is Roger Misso, a naval officer. He is also an aviator, speechwriter, husband, father, and aspiring 50-states marathon runner. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1), and the Harvard Kennedy School. He is founder and CEO of the Federation Shipbuilding Project, an exploratory venture to apply the principles of additive manufacturing and design to revolutionize American shipbuilding. He has published and spoken extensively on leadership, talent management, innovation, and reform in the Department of Defense.

Members of the distinguished board:

Dr. Erin Simpson is a defense analyst turned executive with experience across defense industry. She is also the co-host of Bombshell, a boozy, national-security podcast from War on the Rocks. Dr. Simpson spent over five years at Caerus Associates, where she helped to build an experimental start-up into a cutting edge DC consulting firm leveraging social and data science. As CEO of the company in 2016, she presided over its successful sale. Before her time at Caerus, she served as the Strategic Advisor to ISAF’s Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team, and was as an Assistant Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Marine Command and Staff College in Quantico, VA. She proudly holds degrees from Harvard and the University of Kansas.


Jen Sovada, a Colonel in the US Air Force, is passionate about enabling change within the national security enterprise. She loves to connect people so they can work together to find innovative ways to solve problems. She is also focused on empowering and supporting people so they attack problems head on, find innovative solutions and unique ways of thinking to tackle obstacles.


Jer McKoy is inquisitive, creative and loves a good challenge. His belief in identifying individuals’ strengths and encouraging diversity evolved from leading military teams around the world. He enjoys connecting people and thinking differently: preferably in the outdoors, ideally with a whiteboard. He seeks out promising opportunities, people’s inner potential, and the most efficient way to get to and from work. He lives in California with his wife.


Ben Taylor is a full-time Army officer in North Carolina. His interest in defense innovation began while writing his masters thesis on the need for militaries to constantly innovate to support the power status of the countries they serve. His degrees are in political science and defense studies, but his passions include connecting disparate disciplines for social improvement, the value of networks and motivated people, and the transformative power of good leadership.


Shawn VanDiver is President of VanDiver Consulting serving clients in the region and around the nation. He serves on several boards and committees at the local, state, and national levels focusing on human trafficking, national security, and civic engagement. Having never had an opinion he neglected to share, he has been published in local, national, and international outlets, including the San Diego Union Tribune, USA Today, and The Guardian. Locally, he serves on the board of the Women’s Museum of California and is a Co-Founder and Director of the Truman National Security Project San Diego Chapter. He attended National University and the Naval Postgraduate School, earning degrees and certificates in Domestic Security Management, Homeland Security and Safety Engineering, and Information Systems and Operations. He serves as faculty for San Diego State University and guest lectures at others. A 12-year Navy Veteran, he enjoys cooking, sailing, and spending time with his incredible fiancé and their 9-year- old aspiring pirate or engineer.


After 11 years of active duty service as an Army combat engineer officer, Jim Perkins is now a technologist for Amazon Web Services where he focuses on cloud computing for national security customers. Jim joined DEF in 2015 and has served in various roles. In 2016, he co-founded DEF’s Washington DC Agora and co-hosted the first DEFxDC event. Jim was DEF’s Executive Director for 2016 and 2017 and led the organization’s growth and first crowdfunding campaign. In 2015, he co-founded Military Mentors, a registered 501(c)(3) focused on improving professional development among service members. Jim is passionate about innovation, technology, talent management, and national security and writes for War on the Rocks. He lives in Seattle, WA with his wife and son.


Miriam Krieger is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Air Force, F-16 pilot, and currently serves as an instructor of Political Science at the United States Air Force Academy. Previously, she was Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and led the Chairman’s Action Group – Strategic Initiatives team, where she handled strategy and policy formulation. She is a doctoral candidate in International Relations at Georgetown University with an emphasis on Security Studies. In her free time, Miriam is involved with the Defense Entrepreneurs’ Forum (DEF), Veteran’s Global Leadership program, and other mentoring opportunities. She completed a pre-doctoral fellowship in foreign policy at the Brookings Institute and her awards include the Truman and Marshall Scholarships, 2012 CSAF Prestigious Ph.D. Fellowship, and 2015 General Wilma Vaught Visionary Leadership Award for work on female officer retention and talent management.

The Board is currently deliberating our first crop of applications and looks forward to providing an update by the end of February.

Stay tuned for more from the Firestarter Fellowship program! And get your dreams and ideas together for the next Firestarter cohort, which will go live in April.

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