On April 5, 2012 Navy LT Ben Kohlmann rocked the military blogosphere with his article The Military Needs More Disruptive Thinkers. The article launched a vibrant debate about the place of innovation and talent management within the US military. In March 2013 I made my own contribution to this discussion, with my article Finding Common Ground: Harnessing Disruption for the Good of the Service. Shortly after its publication, Ben Kohlmann reached out to me; he was capitalizing on the momentum to create a new organization called the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, and wanted my help to plan its first annual conference.
In October 2013, a diverse group of defense entrepreneurs converged on the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business for DEF2013. At a time when DoD conference attendance was practically banned because of sequester, DEF2013 was a smashing success. With its lack of uniforms and hierarchy, its engaging Tweet wall, its small group Ideation sessions, and its inspiring TED-style talks, it was unlike any military conference I’ve ever attended. Most importantly, DEF fulfilled its purpose of bringing passionate, like-minded innovators together. Numerous friendships and partnerships have grown out of DEF, and the ecosystem continues to grow.