Hacking for Defense alums Lumineye win xTechSearch
By Jess Stillman
It all started with the desire to create an innovative solution to a DOD problem. Lumineye Inc., the grand prize winner of xTechSearch 2.0, began as a group of classmates at Boise State University participating in the Hacking for Defense (H4D) program, where students were challenged to find a solution to identify humans through radio frequencies. Through their work in solving the challenge, the students started Lumineye, a small business with a device that can solve one of the DOD’s most critical challenges—providing “through-wall sensing” for first responders and warfighters. Lumineye’s device is lightweight and compact with the ability to detect moving and still people from more than 10 meters away.
H4D is a program of the National Security Innovation Network and powered by BMNT, Inc. and the Common Mission Project, bringing students together from different disciplines to curate and solve national defense problems.
Created by Pete Newell, Steve Blank and Joe Felter, H4D is a national academic program currently offered at 24 universities. (See “Hacking for Defense,” Army AL&T January-March 2017, Page 98.) It teaches students how to use modern entrepreneurial tools such as the Lean Startup methodology and problem-curation techniques to address national security challenges at startup speed. Newell, CEO of BMNT Inc., is a retired Army colonel whose last command was the Rapid Equipping Force, where he sped off-the-shelf solutions to Soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan. He started BMNT, a consulting company in Palo Alto, California, with Felter, formerly a colonel in the Army Special Operations Forces and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for South and Southeast Asia.
DON’T WAIT FOR OPPORTUNITY, GRAB IT
When Corbin Hennen, now CEO of Lumineye, heard about H4D, he knew he wanted in. He proposed the H4D program to Boise State’s Venture College, and received approval to move forward with the program. In addition to being a student in the H4D class, Hennen assisted in running the first cohort at the university.
Megan Lacy, who is now chief design officer for Lumineye, was recruited by Hennen. Lacy was working on her master’s degree at Boise State and had a background in design thinking. She applied what she’d learned to the solution they developed in H4D. Before becoming a part of the program, Lacy had a different plan for her future. “I thought I was going to work in consumer goods. This was a total pivot for me,” she said in a November phone interview. Lacy became a part of the team to provide a solution because she knew that you can “actually impact someone’s life by solving these DOD problems.”
As the team members progressed through the H4D program, they interviewed more than 120 potential users, including Soldiers and Marines; special operations personnel; local, state and federal law enforcement officials; firefighters; and search-and-rescue workers. Based on the feedback and information they received, they realized they were going to do more than just solve the problem within the program.
“In Hacking for Defense, the point isn’t just to create a company, you just need to solve the problem. But we were talking to users, and the current devices weren’t really meeting their needs for the tactical applications, so we decided we were going to solve this problem,” explained Lacy. They formed Lumineye shortly after completing the H4D program in April 2017.
NEVER GIVE UP
When xTechSearch launched its first iteration in 2018, it received more than 340 proposals, including one from Lumineye. During xTechSearch 1.0, the company made it to Phase II and was invited to conduct a live technology pitch to a judging panel of Army experts. That panel did not select Lumineye to advance further in the competition.
Instead of giving up, Lumineye used the feedback from the judges and applied for xTechSearch 2.0 with an improved pitch and a prototype they created with the funds they received from xTechSearch 1.0. “We knew immediately when we got done with 1.0 that we were going to apply for 2.0 again,” said Lacy.
When Lumineye entered xTechSearch 2.0, the team members incorporated improvements to their technology concept and took a different approach during their pitch events, explaining how they learned where their technology could fit within larger Army systems and integrate with other fielded products. They impressed the judges during each phase of the competition, and received valuable feedback and contact information to connect with collaborators and stakeholders to continue developing their product. They also participated in the Y Combinator program, which gave them additional funding opportunities as well as the ability to further develop their technology concept to be presented during Phase IV.
At the conclusion of xTechSearch 2.0, Lumineye was awarded the grand prize of $250,000, bringing their xTechSearch winnings to $385,000, all of which will be used to help create a product that can solve one of the Army’s most critical challenges and provide a safer solution for warfighters.
In addition to xTechSearch, Lumineye also participated in the Army SBIR 19.2 “Expeditionary Technology (xTechSearch) Dual-Use Technologies Applicable to Army Modernization Priority Areas,” and was selected as a winner in Phase I. The company will receive $110,000 over a six-month period to continue the research and development into the technical merit, feasibility and commercial potential for their technology.
Lumineye team members are now actively looking for additional opportunities to receive feedback and funding for their technology concept. They have been speaking and meeting with Army leaders who are interested in using their technology, and xTechSearch maintains contact with Lumineye to ensure that they are able to make the right connections within the Army. The company is looking to get to a point over the next five to 10 years where its product is available to all first responders and warfighters.
This article is published in the Winter 2020 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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