The Skill Set of Service Members
This quarter’s Hacking for Defense course—now in its third year at Booth—has 36 students, 14 of whom are veterans or active-duty service members.
Adjunct assistant professor of entrepreneurship Will Gossin, who teaches the class with UChicago law professor M. Todd Henderson, says that this course gives students with military experience a chance to showcase their unique skill sets, while also teaching them that their skill sets have unique applications in business.
“We believe this course offers a compelling opportunity to serve the country, learn the entrepreneurship tool kit, and potentially create a new venture,” Gossin says. “This year, the military-affiliated students are taking a leading role in that entrepreneurial experience.”
Bill Lennon, a student at UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and an active-duty Navy helicopter pilot, is working with his group in Hacking for Defense to solve a problem for the Navy’s Task Force 59. The unit, based in Bahrain, uses unmanned autonomous vehicles to monitor large areas of water for threats. Lennon’s team is developing a way to automatically pull data from these vehicles and showcase the insights on a dashboard, allowing service members in the Navy to see what’s happening and more efficiently make their next decisions without needing to manually pull data from each individual vehicle.
Lennon, who studies public policy and computational analysis, credits Hacking for Defense with expanding his thinking when solving a problem.
“It has been a new area for me, especially the customer discovery portion,” Lennon says. “We’ve been doing as many interviews as we can with end users in the Navy to see what types of problems they’re having and what they really want, then developing a product to meet their needs.”
Students in Hacking for Defense are also tasked with finding a dual use for their technology. If a solution can solve a problem for the government, can it do the same for private businesses? Gossin says that by the end of the course, he hopes that many of these teams can create a prototype worthy of competing in the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge at Booth.
Lennon and Pelkey both love getting to work on these issues with a professionally diverse group of students—the class is open to students across UChicago—as it allows people from a variety of military and business backgrounds to find a shared language and work together.
“In our group, we have service members and civilians,” Pelkey says. “I can translate military speak, and they can translate business speak. Together, we can bridge the gap.”