To IT security pros, hacking refers to the practice of gaining unauthorized entry into computer networks and systems. But to entrepreneurs, it means brainstorming and identifying clever fixes to common real-world problems: a process that students experience firsthand in Hacking for Defense, an experiential course at Chicago Booth that challenges them to solve pressing operational challenges facing the defense and intelligence communities.
“It’s an ideal space in which to experiment and expand your innovation and entrepreneurship tool kits,” notes adjunct assistant professor of entrepreneurship Will Gossin, who teaches the course alongside UChicago law professor Todd Henderson. “It also presents an opportunity to enjoy a novel experience, given that there’s a whole other swath of potential career pathways in government that students might wish to consider if they’re interested in new venture creation.”
Now in its second year at Booth, the 10-week course is administered through the US Department of Defense’s National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) and focuses on dynamic problem-solving. Students are grouped into interdisciplinary teams that draw on each member’s expertise in myriad areas of practice, such as business, finance, and law. The teams are paired with top leaders at actual DOD organizations and intelligence communities and tasked with interviewing stakeholders, conducting research, and applying practical entrepreneurship skills to solve challenges faced by these high-level government sponsors. Recent assignments, for example, have given students the opportunity to help better manage aerospace operations at NASA, improve gender equity in the Wisconsin National Guard, and ease the transfer of knowledge between rotating teams deployed throughout East Africa for the United States Africa Command.
“It’s all about solving operational challenges,” Gossin explains. “Students may not realize it, but the defense industrial complex deals with many of the same challenges as startups—from rapidly shifting operating conditions to evolving technologies and changing social norms.”