The 2019 application is now closed.

For additional questions about the program, please contact the Firestarter Fellowship Team.


What is the Firestarter Fellowship?

The Firestarter Fellowship is a DEF program which invests directly in people on the leading edge of solving the most critical challenges in national security innovation. We identify and invest in individuals with ideas that have potential to positively impact defense and national security missions. The 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 on national security problems.

How Does it Happen?

Phase 1: Firestarter applicants pitch the DEF on a project to develop a prototype which meets a unique need in the defense community. 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?

Phase 2: Fellows will meet on a bi-weekly to discuss project development, challenges and successes, as well as having the opportunity to participate in mentoring sessions and virtual roundtables with other thinkers in the defense entrepreneurial space. Over the course of 6 months, selected Fellows receive tailored mentorship, advocacy, and initial funding up to $1,000 to develop their idea into a tangible solution. Firestarter funding is used for the Fellows’ professional development as innovators in support of their proposed project and its impact.

Phase 3: Fellows present project outcomes to the community at the DEF annual conference in September of 2019, and those projects with results and the highest potential for community impact are then selected for additional funding and sponsorship through the network of donors and leaders supporting our virtuous insurgency.

Still have questions?  We’d love to hear them! Just contact the Firestarter Fellowship Team.


About the Firestarter Fellowship Team:

Sean Barnes
Sean is the Director of the Firestarter Fellowship and has been a member of the DEF Community since February 2018. He joined DEF a way to positively impact the National Security arena and bridge a gap he noticed between the military and intelligence community, which he supported for 11 years and the industry, where he has led numerous organizations and efforts in his career. Sean currently serves as the Director of Professional Services for TransUnion – Public Sector, working big data and data analytics solutions for government clients. Before separating from the US Air Force 2012, he served as Intelligence Weapons Officer with experience in force employment, threat systems analysis, collection techniques, and multi-source analysis. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Mandy, and two sons Grayson, 5, and Landon, 2.
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.