Hacks is a program that offers students, academics, entrepreneurs and early-stage startups a 48-hour period to engage in collaborative problem-solving with U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) sponsors.

Held four to five times a year at innovation hubs or on the campuses of partner universities, hackathons present a unique opportunity for students and ventures to engage deeply with DoD customers.

We identify the top academic and startup communities in the most relevant technology areas to select the venue best suited to solve the problem. We work with university partners, community and government organizations, technology incubators, and the startup ecosystem to bring in the talent and resources necessary to hold an impactful and productive event.

Problem-Solving for National Security

At the hackathon, we expose the DoD challenge to a new group of problem solvers – students, academics, entrepreneurs, and early-stage startups. This is where innovation is happening in today’s world, but most of these problem solvers have never had the opportunity to address DoD challenges. We also bring mentors. These are the DoD operators who live with the problem every day, technical subject matter experts from the DoD and the private sector, and business people who understand the government and commercial markets for the technologies. The mentors provide the context and guidance that ensures the hackers’ solutions are not only innovative, but also practical, relevant, and effective. The result is both new solutions to the toughest DoD problems and a new generation of innovators interested in working with the DoD.

Representative challenge areas include humanitarian assistance and disaster response; countering small, unmanned aerial systems; enabling operations at the edge of communication networks; turning human actions into machine usable data; and developing tools and systems to provide situational awareness in dense urban and subterranean environments.
Successful previous hackathon solutions range from first-responder task management software and a security blanket designed to aid impacted populations during a crisis to a system to detect small, unmanned, aerial systems using micro-electro-mechanical system microphones.

The event culminates with a competition where the best innovations are awarded additional funding and mentoring by NSIN. Winning teams receive between a $15K-$30K award to pursue their idea, form a venture to support commercialization, or continue customer discovery to evaluate the market.

Collaborating Across Communities

As a Hacks sponsor, DoD entities engage with NSIN in defining a hackathon’s scope, selecting technology areas of interest, and curating the challenge area to be conducive to unclassified problem-solving. NSIN covers the financial costs of the event but looks to DoD challenge sponsors to lead in developing the hackathon’s specific challenge. At the end of the hackathon, DoD sponsors benefit from the innovative solutions and the opportunity for recruiting talented hackathon participants to join their organizations.

Leading research universities partner with NSIN to develop novel solutions to national security needs by hosting a hackathon. Participation in a hackathon helps the university, its students, and faculty members deepen knowledge of existing, national security challenges, explore collaborative problem-solving, and position new ventures for DoD and other government applications. The university also benefits from the notoriety of having one of their students solve a pressing national security need and the potential for deeper engagement with the DoD.

For more information on how to partner or sponsor a hackathon, email hacks@nsin.us.