The Pentagon is launching a new tech hub in Boston as part of an effort to tap into that city’s concentration of biotechnology firms.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter on July 26 officially opened a new office designed to connect the military with commercial companies and emerging technologists who could eventually become suppliers.
The East Coast Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental, or DIUx, joins the Pentagon’s other DIUx office, based in the Silicon Valley area and unveiled in 2015.
The move signals that the Pentagon is thinking beyond the traditionally tech-rich Silicon Valley and into other geographic areas; lawmakers have expressed concern that federal outreach efforts have focused too much on California-based companies. Officials from some departments, including Homeland Security, have started scouting technology in Boston and Austin, Texas.
The Boston DIUx office could help the Pentagon delve into the “union of biology, engineering and data,” Carter said during a press briefing.
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A Pentagon presence in tech hubs could help commercial companies learn how to sell to government, Carter said.
“We want to be on their radar,” he said.
Eventually, “we hope all the parts of the department are able to be … as agile and as wide ranging in their ability to see what’s going on in the world of technology,” Carter said.
DIUx will have three teams: one to identify new commercial technology that could be deployed on the battlefield; a second to find early-stage technology that still needs significant development; and a third to connect inventors to military personnel describing specific pain points.
The Pentagon plans to let companies pitch their ideas to DOD in the same way they would to private sector investors, and, for certain companies, provide funding less than two months after it connects with a company and less than a month after it receives a formal proposal.
Since the West Coast DIUx opened, it has helped DOD connect with “hundreds of entrepreneurs and firms,” Carter said in a statement. DIUx Managing Director Raj Shah has overseen 15 projects, and awarded the first contract in 31 days.
Carter also introduced several big tech names to his Defense Innovation Advisory Board, originally established in March. New members include astrophysicist and TV host Neil deGrasse Tyson, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, LinkedIn Co-founder Reid Hoffman, Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Instagram Chief Operating Officer Marne Levine, Aspen Institute Chief Executive Walter Isaacson and Code for America Founder Jennifer Pahlka.