Imagine an airplane dropping a 3D-printing robot out of the sky, and that robot using local materials to create places for people to live after natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes. Imagine similar technology creating structures to hide military vehicles anywhere in the world using local materials.
This is not science fiction. It’s happening today, enabled by the US military taking a fresh approach to innovation. They have pivoted from being slow and bureaucratic to agile and leveraging technology developed by others.
How does this new military innovation work? The military looks for startup companies that already have interesting technology that can be applied to military problems or make existing military processes better. The military’s goal is to utilize this existing technology and modify it so it’s fit for military purposes. They even have programs that will pay for the technology modifications, things like Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR).
According to Get2Growth, 100 million startups launch annually in the US alone. How can the military sift through 100 million startups to find the ones who have viable technology, investor backing, competent founders, and are on a reasonable path to success? This is where Capital Factory comes in. According to Pitchbook, Capital Factory is consistently the most active investor in Texas. They are the center of gravity for entrepreneurs, introducing the best entrepreneurs to investors, employees, partners, and customers. One way Capital Factory supports entrepreneurs is through an accelerator program where only the most promising startups are invited. The accelerator companies receive the benefits of mentorship, visibility to investors, introductions to customers, a community of peers, and education at their own pace. Capital Factory’s accelerator program companies are a great source of innovation for the military innovation agencies.
Because of the hotbed of innovation and technology at Capital Factory, several innovation-focused military organizations took up residence there. You can find military engineers working side by side with startup founders inside the Capital Factory offices or virtually.
Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is one of the innovative military branches that partners with Capital Factory. They are a Capital Factory Innovation Council member where the programs and events put curated technology leading startups directly in their view. At one such event, DIU met what appeared to be an unrelated technology startup named ICON.
ICON is one of Capital Factory’s accelerator program companies that combines 3D printing, robotics, materials science, and software to print standalone structures regardless of location. Their mission began by building houses for impoverished families living on $3 per day in rural Mexico with housing nonprofit New Story, and for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness in central Texas at Community First! Village in Austin.
DIU recognized the potential in ICON’s technology and saw ways to apply it to the military, but modifications to the technology were needed. This is where Capital Factory’s mix of expertise came into play including finding a way to get non-diluted research dollars. ICON received SBIR funding to apply its technology to the military, including increasing the size of the structures it could build to accommodate large military vehicles that needed housing in remote locations.
The first of many proof of concept deployments between ICON and the military was completed with DIU and the United States Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton in the summer of 2020. ICON trained eight Marines on how to operate its technology and completed building a vehicle hide structure within 36 hours of print time across three and a half days. More detail on the project, including a video of the technology in action, is here. This proof of concept has led to several military contracts for ICON and a big win for DIU and the government agencies involved. This successful deployment provided proof that startup technology could be modified and applied to solve military problems.
People often talk about the serendipitous collisions that happen at Capital Factory, the center of gravity that draws government entities, prime contractors, and commercial giants to work with startups. Introducing DIU to ICON and the resulting application of ICON’s technology to military structures is a great example of Capital Factory’s Innovation Council at its best–creating the environment for both the large company member and the startup to create something that wasn’t conceivable prior to the partnership.
If you want to know more about how you can get involved with Capital Factory’s Innovation Council, reach out to [email protected]