The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum piloted the Firestarter Fellowship in 2018 as a new program that invests directly in people driving national security innovation that are poised to expand the innovation community.

Through the Firestarter Fellowship, a limited number of our members are given grants – not for products or systems, but for their own human capital development. Innovation is nothing without the culture and the people to support it, and this is one of DEF’s direct efforts to build a community of defense innovators. 

Throughout the course of the program, Fellows receive mentoring, access to industry and government leaders working in their area of interest, and contribute written or other content to update the community on how they are progressing. Fellows also present an overview of their experience at the next year’s annual conference.

The next Firestarter Fellowship cohort will be announced in Spring 2019. Ideal candidates are passionate about improving the culture within the national security enterprise and willing to commit to an intense year-long, non-resident fellowship-like experience with biannual in-person engagements. The 2019 cohort will serve for six months, developing their interests and establishing their place in the defense innovation ecosphere. 

The Defense Entrepreneurs Forum didn’t start the fire, but you might! Apply to be a DEF Firestarter Fellow and light the spark that will ignite change. The Firestarter Fellowship is currently not accepting applications. Details about the 2019 Firestarter Fellowship will be announced soon. 


The 2019 application window is not yet open.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is the DEF Firestarter Fellowship for me?

Have you ever dreamed of completing a course of study, but didn’t have the funding? Have you ever wished you could meet movers and shakers in the world of venture capital, military innovation, or similar fields, but didn’t know how to get in the room? Do you have a problem–and an idea–in the national security enterprise and need a little help?

Then the DEF Firestarter Fellowship is for you.

This isn’t your typical “fellowship.” Sure, you’ll fill out an application, but there is no one typical “fellow.” Some fellows may have mature projects they’ve worked on for years. Some may be just starting out. In order to be selected for the DEF Firestarter Fellowship, you must convince us why you should be a fellow. What’s your story? Who are you, what is your dream, and why does it matter?

Who may apply?

The DEF Firestarter Fellowship is open to all US citizens. Preference will be given to those working within the Department of Defense or veterans working in similar government agencies or on DoD problems. There is no age or rank limitation or preference.

What are the requirements?

Monthly writing and/or video about your project, what you have learned, or inspiration for others (coordinated with Fellowship team)

Two in-person obligations: 1) DEF Annual Forum in the Fall ; 2) Firestarter Fellowship in the Spring

Demonstrated personal growth and development

What can I receive grant funding for?

We are keeping this purposefully vague because each individual’s development and aspirations are different. Some may need grant funding to attend programs such as Stanford Ignite, the Harvard Innovation Lab, or LUMA Institute; others may need travel funding and contacts for visits to places like Amazon, Tesla, or Google.

Still others might need no funding at all. Some may ask to meet with influential people in the broader community of national innovators. Some may even ask to meet the President of the United States! For these types of requests, we make no promises, but will work with each selectee to fulfill a plan to put him or her on a path to personal growth and development.

What should go into my grant proposal?

Your grant proposal should outline a progression in skill or personal development and mark some specific obtainable yet personally difficult goals. Your objectives should be at the edge of your “comfort zone,” however your individual experience level should be appropriate for the proposed objectives.

Applications are considered for projects or ideas that occur or can be worked on within one year of the application award date. However, the end of your grant should not spell the end of your project – your work and your influence are just beginning!


Firestarter Fellowship funding may not be used to benefit an entity with which the applicant has a stake as owner or investor.

Applications from individuals working on projects or ideas that are already being sponsored by corporate or outside funding will not be considered.

Firestarter Fellows are expected to comport themselves respectfully in all ways, at all times as they work to solve problems or work on ideas.

Though some problems may require legislative or executive action, Firestarter Fellows will avoid partisan political statements or activity while working on their project or idea.

Firestarter Fellowship grants are awarded to individuals only.

Still have questions?  We’d love to hear them! Just contact us.