Your typical startup demo day, in other words—except for the presence of a four-star Army general and pockets of uniformed military personnel and besuited corporate types with name tags from giant defense contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton. And the senior U.S. senator from Texas, John Cornyn, standing near the general, along with the mayor of Austin and the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
It was February 21, opening day of the Center for Defense Innovation, in the downtown Austin high-rise that houses Capital Factory, the city’s leading accelerator. Last fall, the U.S. Army chose Austin as the home for its new Army Futures Command, the most sweeping modernization effort in decades across the largest branch of the military. As the pace of tech change has quickened, the Army has begun to look badly outdated in fields like artificial intelligence and robotics. The AFC intends to fix that by working with startups; the new space within Capital Factory is where it all will come together.
“This is the only place in the world where an entrepreneur can walk in off the street and engage authentically with members of the defense and intelligence communities,” said Capital Factory founder Joshua Baer in his remarks. “The best petri dish for innovation in the nation,” Cornyn intoned. Besides the AFC, several other military-innovation groups— notably the Air Force’s Afwerx and the Pentagon’s Defense Innov