Jay Harrison – Serial Entrepreneur, Defense Innovation Expert

Jay Harrison is a defense industry entrepreneur and technology innovator and an advocate for military acquisition reform. In 2006 he founded Mav6, a defense technology company recognized by Inc. magazine in 2011, 2012, and 2013 as one of the fastest growing privately held companies in America. In 2016 he was named inaugural director of the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator, a human capital innovation program within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Harrison was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Memphis with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1995 and then went on to earn master’s degrees from the University of Florida, the Naval War College, and the National Intelligence University. He attended but did not complete the Master of Business Administration program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and is a Ph.D. candidate at the New York University.

In 2002 Harrison was selected by the United States Office of the Secretary of Defense to lead the Technical Operations Support Activity (TOSA), a secretive military organization created in 2003 chartered with finding and repurposing commercial technologies for sensitive military missions. Harrison arranged for TOSA personnel to be embedded with operational military units in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world to observe military and counter-terrorism operations, resulting in a number of revolutionary products delivered to the battlefield in the early phases of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. During Harrison’s tenure, the United States Army awarded Army Greatest Invention recognition to three TOSA programs – the Unattended Transient Acoustic MASINT System (UTAMS) (2004), the Persistent Threat Detection System (2005), and the Constant Hawk aerial surveillance system.

In 2006, Harrison left the military and co-founded Mav6, LLC, where he served as managing director and chief technology officer from 2006-2014. By 2011 Mav6 was earning about $120 million in annual revenues and had won three Inc. 500/5000 awards by creating collaborations between academia, industry, and military organizations. In 2011, Popular Science named one of Harrison’s projects, the M1400 airship, as a top innovation of the year, and in 2012 Ernst & Young recognized Harrison as the Entrepreneur of the Year in the Gulf Coast Region.

In 2010, working as an advisor in the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Harrison co-developed a process called “technology domain awareness”, which matches new technologies with national security and public safety needs.

In December 2011, Harrison co-founded the Center for Battlefield Innovation, part of the High Performance Computing Collaboratory at Mississippi State University, to provide a focal point for applying university-based research to problems in defense and public safety. In March 2014, Harrison was named the first director of the Center for Smart Defense at the West Virginia University. In 2015 he was appointed Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow at the National Defense University and the John Boyd National Security Research Fellow at New York University.

In 2016, Harrison founded the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator,a partnership between the United States Department of Defense and several American universities. He has served as the inaugural director since the program’s inception. As part of his work there, he promotes the development of dual-use technology startups that address critical national security issues and has pioneered the use of hackathon and crowdsourcing activities to prototype new military capabilities.


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Think Wrong with Christopher O’Keefe

Christopher O’Keefe is the COO of Solve Next, Editor in Chief of The Navalist, Co-Founder of O’Keefe Realty, and previously a member of the Chief of Naval Operation’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

Chris is an instigator of what he calls “thinking wrong”.


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What is Hacking for Defense?


In this podcast I chat with Pete Newell, partner at BMNT and one of the minds behind Hacking for Defense.  We talk about the origins of BMNT, H4D, and steps that entrepreneurs can take to get involved.


For more info, check out:


H4Di – Hacking for Defense Inc. (H4D-i)

Hacking 4 Defense Incorporated (H4D-i) is a 501c(3) non-profit organization established to enable powerful approaches to stimulating science and technology invention, disruptive innovation, and entrepreneurship on university and college campuses.


We connect problems with people and technology to provide responsive capabilities in a rapidly changing national security environment.

MD5 | National Security Technology Accelerator: The heart of …

MD5 is accelerating the dissemination of innovation knowledge and methods throughout the DoD workforce. We are building new communities of innovators to create a novel capacity for national security problem solving. We help generate and increase the number and viability of dual-use ventures that serve the needs of our warfighters.

Join TIC Consortium — The Intelligence Community Inc.

TIC Consortium is a network of entrepreneurs and businesses seeking to do business with the U.S. government. Join us and we will get you introduced to other companies to team up, and government leaders so you can pitch innovative solutions. We want you on our team!

A Discussion with Geoff Orazem

This is part of a series of blog posts in which I will be asking innovators three important questions.  If you would like to participate in the conversation, shoot me a note on LinkedIn.

The views expressed in the below statements are those of the individuals and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.


Geoff Orazem

Geoff Orazem is the CEO and Founder of Eastern Foundry, an incubator for government contractors in Crystal City and Rosslyn, VA. Geoff is a former Marine infantry platoon commander who served in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Following the Marine Corps he attended Harvard Law School after which he returned to Iraq as a Tribal Affairs officer with the Iraqi Transportation Network (ITN). Following the ITN he began working in McKinsey and Co.’s DC office as an Engagement Manager.

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A Discussion with Benjamin Buchholz

This is part of a series of blog posts in which I will be asking innovators three important questions.  If you would like to participate in the conversation, shoot me a note on LinkedIn.

The views expressed in the below statements are those of the individuals and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

Benjamin Buchholz

Ben is the Co Founder and CEO of Nthos Solutions, which helps commercial companies understand and influence hard to reach groups through the power of hyper-local open source human networks.


Graham: What are you currently working on that you think others would find interesting?

Ben: My company, Nthos Solutions, has developed a capability for conducting cyber-enabled information and influence work that uses gamification and other incentive techniques to provide companies with high-fidelity, low-touch, local information and engagement opportunities.  Originally we began working with this capability in the security field, helping companies extend their awareness and engagement beyond the perimeter of their traditional stand-off spaces.  But we quickly discovered the capability had applications in the PR and HR realms for large companies (no matter the vertical) and for the financial and risk management sectors.  We fit between the time/labor intensive ground-pounding activities of volunteer campaigns and the too-broad brushstrokes of PR and marketing solutions, able to precisely go after target markets but do so with a very light footprint.

Graham: What is one application of an emerging technology that makes you excited or concerned or both?

Ben: I’m really excited about blockchain.  I think it offers the promise to disrupt the financial sector, and that it also has a lot of interesting things to say about the permanence of IP.   What I’d really like to think about and write about is what the military/security implications of blockchain might be – not just in terms of the instability that might be a by-product of financial sector disruption but other security aspects that might not be getting thought about.

Graham: What is one way that you think people will need to adapt given new technological and cultural contexts?

My younger son, who just turned 15, is the number 3 ranked player in the game Destiny (out of 30 million worldwide players).  It’s been a big learning curve for me to not only accept but to encourage and facilitate what seems, from my parental perspective, a gaming addiction.  But I had to learn to look at it as a social activity, a sport, a hobby, AND a burgeoning career all at once.  Although mitigating the negative health effects of long periods of game play is still at the forefront of my mind (we talk a lot about balance in his choices of activities), I’m also continually looking for opportunities to help him explore his options as a young professional in this field.  It’s a strange world.  It’s a world he knows more about than I do.  So as an adult the trick seems to be in transferring, or somehow communicating, some of the successful strategies I’ve learned (in life, in business) to not only his new/weird chosen field, but also into the terms and motivations that appeal to him as a 15-year old.  Is he thinking of a career?  No.  But can he, and is he by default, preparing himself for a place in the gaming world?  Absolutely.  The gaming realm has its own tech (of course) and its own culture.  It’s not going away.  And just like everywhere else, there are people who are going to be masters of the system, innovators for the future, and profiteers, and those who end up on the wrong end of that equation.  So I think it is wise to look at gaming as something other than a hobby.  I’m working through that pain daily.


A Discussion with JJ Snow

This is part of a series of blog posts in which I will be asking innovators three important questions.  If you would like to participate in the conversation, shoot me a note on LinkedIn.

The views expressed in the below statements are those of the individuals and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

jj snow

JJ Snow is the SOCOM Donovan Group Innovation Officer working with SOFWERX. SOFWERX was created under a Partnership Intermediary Agreement between Doolittle Institute and the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). Located in Tampa, FL, SOFWERX has a very dynamic environment designed to create a high rate of return on collision for all participants. Through the use of our growing ecosystem, promotion of divergent thought, and neutral facilitation, our goal is to bring the right minds together to solve challenging problems.


Graham: What are you currently working on that you think others would find interesting?

JJ: We are currently standing up a new 40,000 sq ft hackerspace to support U.S. Special Operations Command, the Strategic Capabilities Office and Interagency Partners in the areas of drones, big data, AI, machine learning, advanced robotics, novel space solutions, cyber, and biohacking. This addition to the SOFWERX family will provide additional creative collision space to foster government and technology community interactions in a public non-governmental facility. Our first initiative for the new facility, ThunderDrone, seeks to bring in drone and drone related technologies for review by the command and interagency partners who seek to leverage these capabilities to solve a variety of wicked problems including communications for disaster recovery, search and rescue, austere medical support, de-mining operations, logistics, training  and battlefield operations.

Graham: What is one application of an emerging technology that makes you excited or concerned or both?

JJ: The growing accessibility of advanced bio-technologies like CRISPR/Cas9 is a big concern. Not only are the regulations lagging in this area, but these capabilities are easy to procure via online sites in a ready to use format for under $300. They also require a significantly lower level of skill to successfully employ than previous techniques which necessitated advanced degrees and years of laboratory experience to “get it right”. While the Bio-Hacker community has done a fantastic job in establishing strong ethical and safety guidelines for their efforts, some nation state actors and non-state actors continue to forge ahead on initiatives of concern. The creation of Chimeric organisms, the application of CRISPR to human embryos and the potential for CRISPR to be leveraged to create modified biological agents of concern, whether intentionally or out of ignorance, are critical topics to address. CRISPR has the potential to be a tremendous life giving tool that can cure many diseases. But without open discussion and collaboration, the potential for misuse resulting in dangerous effects casts a long shadow over the many positive benefits.

Graham: What is one way that you think people will need to adapt given new technological and cultural contexts?

JJ: One of the more interesting developments is the legitimization of corporations and non-state actor groups as part of global governance structures. The new Technology Ambassador in Denmark, the Dutch government’s responsible disclosure policy which invites hackers to help inform government and address critical gaps, and the growing use of bug bounty programs to find and fix vulnerabilities by both government and corporate entities are all early phases of this process. Self Regulating Communities like the hackers, makers, bio-hackers and trans-humanists are already independently identifying problem areas in which the government lacks the access, expertise or capacity to successfully address problems and are leveraging technologies to find rapid fixes.  In the future, these unconventional networks will play a much larger role in governance at all levels so discussing how to best incorporate them and team with them today is very important. This is a topic the USSOCOM J5 Donovan Group is teaming up with the World Economic Forum and NATO SAC-T on to help define what the next generation of governance might look like.



Don’t Worry, robots won’t take “all” the jobs …

I love dystopian fiction, but…

First of all, consider that the human body and human mind are exquisite machines that can be leveraged for a fairly low price. If I hire someone to help me move a couch into my apartment, the amount of judgement, dexterity and strength to finagle it around staircases and through hallways, is significant. It would cost a pretty penny to build and replicate a robot that could do that task reliably across diverse conditions. And if the robot were created, I suspect that it would be so valuable to hack that the insurance and maintenance costs of such a machine could become even greater than the development costs. In a world filled with expensive, hackable robots <aka, the Titanic>, the human body is still a much better value for certain tasks.

On another point, if I commission a piece of art, knowing the personal or political history of the artist, there is a mind behind the art that is special to me as the buyer and unique from what software can replicate. An AI could probably extrapolate similar art based on patterns from the human artist, or generate somewhat original art based on perspectives as an AI, but this would be a new kind of art, not a replacement for the original. I could appreciate it for its uniqueness as an AI generated art piece, certainly. But as long as humans value the original art because it is created by another human, it cannot be replaced my machine generated art. I use the term art loosely here because I think there is a wide range of creative work that will be valued long after we transition to fully autonomous vehicles, and autonomous vehicles seem to be the alligator closest to the boat.

“But drivers account for tens of thousands of jobs!”

This is a legitimate concern, since one could deduce (perhaps prematurely) that a lot of drivers make money that way because they don’t have better options. I ride with Uber drivers all the time who do it as a side hustle, and many who do it full time hoping that they can transition out of driving to another type of career. The market for human drivers will see massive change in the next 10 years. It’s true. And it would be a good idea to direct our AIs to solve this problem for us as it emerges. We don’t need to go into this situation wringing our hands. Meanwhile, a worthwhile follow on question is:

“If the economy is no longer spending money on drivers, where is that money being spent?”

I guess the worst case scenario is that the money goes into savings accounts and sits there without creating new jobs. However, if the money becomes useful to make the company more productive in other ways, and those ways are beyond capacity of existing autonomous systems (and beyond the ROI of developing and maintaining new systems), then we could see job growth in new areas. Money could be redirected into more complex service oriented and creative industries, and into philanthropy which could create new jobs in the nonprofit space. When your Uber bill drops from $10 for a ride down to $2, you might choose to spend the remainder on a premium podcast or mobile app (as entertainment during your ride) that would be beyond the capability of a machine to produce. You might choose to spend the remainder on education for enrichment. You might choose to spend the remainder on consumables (more Starbucks anyone?). “But my barista will be a robot too!” – No, I think this type of service industry would receive a major backlash if automation were attempted. In certain industries, for a long time to come, there will be an expectation for human to human interaction.

“Who is most vulnerable and who is least vulnerable?”

Job sectors will need to engage in that classic humanities question – “what does it mean to be human?” Jobs that require a human touch, human creativity and innovation, human empathy and love, will be the Helm’s Deep of the human job market decades from now. As the culture becomes more accepting of automation for everything, some of these types of jobs could be done by machines, but there is a coda.

As information increases and the population expands, there is always more work to do. The concept of job markets as limiting factors is somewhat false. Job markets can expand with the population as long as people continue to create new value through ingenuity. Between now and when robots rule the world (tongue in cheek), we have time to innovate new job markets that are uniquely human. And, we have an opportunity to use our robots to think about the problem with us to make sure the future isn’t a bunch of unemployed revolutionaries warring against the synth elites.

Have comments? Leave them on the LinkedIn discussion thread here.