Secretary of Defense Ash Carter tours Texas Advanced Computing Center and Visualization Lab, March 31, 2016.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter tours Texas Advanced Computing Center and Visualization Lab, March 31, 2016. DoD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Clydell Kinchen

How DIUx Should Pick Its Next Branch Offices

The Defense Secretary’s tech-outreach effort is looking to expand. Here’s how to do it.

Nine months after the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) opened for business in Silicon Valley and with a Boston branch coming soon, Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s outreach team are no doubt searching for the next place to put down stakes. Here’s how: they should be looking at cities with innovation districts.

As defined by the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz, innovation districts are “geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with start-ups, business incubators, and accelerators.” Some have arisen on their own; others, like those in Chattanooga and Seattle, have taken shape with the aid of local and state governments. These hubs gather tech experts, entrepreneurs, investors, and public-sector leaders to foster innovation and attack a wide range of problems.

As they begin their search for new places to prospect for technology and woo today’s inventors, DIUx leaders should start by mapping existing innovation districts: who’s there, what they’re working on, even how much it costs to set up an office. For example, it may be more cost-effective to launch an effort in the Research Triangle Park district in North Carolina than setting up shop in Boston’s Kendell Square.

Next, cross-check the various fields of study with the Pentagon’s tech needs. A good place to start is the Communities of Interest page on DOD’s Defense Innovation Marketplace site.

Finally, establish a few beachheads and send out scouts. A new DIUx office could begin with a small team paying visits to local companies to see how well their work and talent matches up with Pentagon needs. Useful organizations could be paired up with a relevant DoD laboratory for further collaboration. Over time, the team could scale up their presence in these districts, creating local labs—sometimes referred to as micro labs—to provide working space for smaller companies, and just maybe recruit individuals for defense jobs.

See also: As Pentagon Dawdles, Silicon Valley Sells Its Newest Tech Abroad
Read more: Three Ways to Judge the Pentagon’s Tech-Sector Outreach

And another thought: as DIUx expands its physical operations, it should ensure that its ability to forge contracts with fast-moving tech companies keep up. The model for DoD-private work has long been the Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs), but these remain slow and favor larger defense contracting companies. DoD needs a better way. It should follow the Department of Homeland Security's lead to offer new and efficient contract vehicles for quick acquisition.

By linking to innovation districts across the country, DoD can cast a wide net—while helping regional economic development as well.