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Hacking for Defense™ (H4D) is the most unique and rewarding class you’ll take at Duke. An Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Science and Society, and Engineering course that takes an entrepreneurial approach to America’s hardest national security challenges. These are real problems that need real results which demands committed, multi-faceted teams comprised of students from every school and program at Duke. You will be at the forefront of changing the paradigm of problem-solving and solution development for the U.S. Government.

The course is demanding; you’ll present at every class, you’ll work closely with your team, you’ll receive relentlessly direct feedback, your problem sponsors, mentors, and military and intelligence community liaisons will be in the room, and so will prospective investors, but you’ll be solving real problems for real customers, in real-time.

It’s why you came to Duke.

We need and want policy wonks, lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs, makers, mechanical engineers, systems engineers, computer scientists, data scientists, biomedical and public health professionals, physicists, techies, poets, and everyone between to be part of this unique effort.

This is the blog of the Spring 2019 teams, in which four of eight teams continued working or had their solution adopted by their problem sponsor.


Check out H4D In the News here!


H4D is an education initiative sponsored by a U.S. Government proponent, the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator at the National Defense University. It was originally created at Stanford by Pete NewellJoe FelterProfessor Tom Byers, and Steve Blank, and has been wildly successful. Teams of 3-5 students from interdisciplinary backgrounds work together to solve real-world national security challenges given to us by problem sponsors inside the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community. Past problem sponsors have been Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER), Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization (JIDO), National Geo-Spatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), National Security Agency (NSA), U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), the Asymmetric Warfare Group, and many others. Using Lean Startup Methodology, and working closely with their problem sponsors, mentors, and liaisons, teams will have 13 weeks to bring a product or service “to market.”

Here are some of our upcoming problems:

  1. Help Marine Special Operators evaluate performance and keep the best
  2. Help keep F-15 Stike Eagles flying with a new maintenance API
  3. Beyond facial recognition—how to bring in other features sensed to id a person
  4. How to move from a whiteboard to software in aircraft scheduling
  5. Build better special operators by digitizing their paper-based evaluation system

Why does the government want Hacking for Defense?

In a crisis, national security initiatives move at the speed of a startup yet in peacetime they default to decades-long acquisition and procurement cycles. Startups operate with continual speed and urgency 24/7. Over the last few years, they’ve learned to be fast and efficient with resources and time using lean startup methodologies. In this class student teams will take actual national security problems and learn how to apply lean startup principles, (“business model canvas,” “customer development,” and “agile engineering”) to discover and validate customer needs and to continually build minimum viable products (MVPs) to test whether they understood the problem and solution. Teams take a hands-on approach requiring close engagement with actual military and intelligence community leaders and end-users.

Why do you want Hacking for Defense?

  1. Learn how to innovate at speed while helping make the world a safer place.
  2. You’ll work on hard, gnarly problems while contributing to national service.
  3. You’ll work on real national security issues, with real national security leaders.
  4. You’ll learn Lean Startup methodology to help you build efficient and successful startups, and develop skills to solve problems in any organization.


  • Registration information: I&E 590, POLSCI 590, PUBPOL 590, SCISOC 590
  • Instructors: Tommy Sowers, Ph.D. and Steve McClelland
  • Meeting time: Wednesday 4:55 PM to 7:30 PM
  • Classroom: Fitzpatrick Schiciano A
  • Facebook: Hacking4DefenseDuke
  • Twitter: @H4DDuke



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