Top Defense Innovation Picks for SXSW

As one of the most significant technology events in the world, SXSW brings together innovators and investors from across the technology spectrum. Having run SXSW’s PR at my last agency, which specialized in working with innovative technology companies and investment firms–I am beyond excited to see how the defense community has worked to build relationships and bridges with emerging tech leaders.

SXSW is a powerful venue to connect and engage, however the content which ends up getting selected is based on community voting and engagement –with an average selection rate of 10%. This year over 3355 panels were submitted. The defense innovation community needs your help to get the vote out –helping us to reach innovative new technology companies and the investors who fund them.

Could you take a quick minute to vote for some defense panels under consideration for this year’s SXSW program?

Voting is quick and easy. Follow the link to the short registration form.

Once you get there, you can copy and post any or all of the panel names below to vote quickly.

Here are Our Top Defense Picks

Here is the full breakdown of each of these panels and their speakers:

Customer Diversification: Taking Tech Dual Use


Pursuing the government as a customer is not for the faint of heart, particularly for start-ups. Many are wary of going dual-use due to the perception of long contract award times, shifting customer demands, and uncertain budgets. Many are unaware that the Department of Defense has made major strides in making it more friendly to emerging tech. This panel brings together the Honorable Heidi Shyu, defense thought leaders, investors, and technologists to discuss how the landscape has changed. It provides insights into new initiatives designed to align the government to the commercial tech marketplace and takes a sincere look at the obstacles that remain to maximize benefits for early-stage, venture-backed companies—providing new tech to our country and customer diversification to companies.

2050: Thriving in an Age of Hyper-Connection


Smart cities, autonomous driving as the norm, digital twins living in an ever-expanding metaverse, space industries booming and opening vast new opportunities and resources—these are all predictions for how our world will develop by 2050. It is an era where cyber-connectivity permeates every aspect of our infrastructure, to the point that there is no longer a functional distinction. During this panel, world-leading experts across industry, cyber defense, and the cyber investment landscape will share their unique insights on what is needed from a policy, innovation, industry, and protection (PIIP) standpoint to navigate a new normal and thrive in 2050.

Record Cyber Spending, So Why Is Risk Still Rising


Over the past year, we have seen record levels of investment pour into cyber. In 2021, VCs invested $29.6 billion on new innovations and total spending by security teams globally was $150 billion. These investments have continued in 2022, despite economic declines. However, we continue to be hammered by threats on every front. If anything, these attacks have increased, targeting hospitals, food suppliers, critical infrastructure, individuals, cryptocurrency, and more, costing an estimated $6 trillion in 2021 – a number expected to rise to $10.5 trillion by 2025. So where are we going wrong? This panel of leading cyber experts will delve into current threat trends, where we might be falling short in our protections and what needs to change if we truly want to be safer in our digital world.

Investing in America: Why VCs Bet Big on Defense


What was once a controversial idea is now consensus: the U.S. is losing its competitive edge against China and Russia, and “business-as-usual” isn’t enough to stay ahead. Failure to adopt and integrate advanced technologies at all levels, and especially across defense forces, poses a grave risk to our national security. The stakes could not be higher. Mission-driven investors are stepping in to accelerate and scale the disruptive technologies being built by new, non-traditional defense technology companies. Their bets are paying off, delivering badly-needed technology to the warfighter and a healthy return on investment. This panel features top investors who are leading and participating in funding rounds for a new era of VC-backed defense technology companies.

Energy Challenges and the Defense Department


Academia and industry have been partnering to solve energy challenges for decades. The Defense Department wasn’t part of the conversation – until now. The war in the Ukraine changed the world. Join leading energy experts from the Pentagon and learn how the adoption of commercial energy technology on the battlefield is accelerating change in the energy sector. Hear how government funding can also propel development of new consumer energy products for non-defense companies with novel technologies.

An AI Arms Race: AI and the Future of War


Vladimir Putin said “Whoever becomes the leader in [artificial intelligence] will become the ruler of the world.” We are in a new arms race. China and Russia are investing heavily in artificial intelligence and machine learning, while the US Defense Dept. is in danger of falling behind in these critical technologies. AI supports better informed, faster decision making on the battlefield, powering autonomous systems and software platforms critical to the future of war. Hear from CEOs at leading technology companies bringing AI-based solutions to the U.S. military and its allies, about how the US can remain ahead in the AI arms race.

Accelerating Dual Use Startup Innovation


This session will be about so-called ‘dual-use’ technologies, which refers to technology that can be used for both peaceful and military aims. More generally, dual-use can also refer to any technology which can satisfy more than one goal at any given time. In recent years various military programs have actively sought out dual-use technologies, with early stage funding for R&D (eg, AFWERX) and sales opportunities (eg, DIU). The panel will bring together several key stakeholders for a round-table conversation, including a former Army Ranger turned-VC, a federal politician (US senator), a representative from one of the federal innovation programs (probably either Army or US Air Force), and a start-up innovator supplying into both civilian and military markets.

Cybersecurity Collaboration – A New Model


Nation states and criminal hackers constantly target the computer networks that form the backbone of critical functions like water, power, and financial services. Defense against these threats requires difficult public-private collaboration. Panelists will highlight actions made possible with a new model of collaborative cyber defense – working together to detect intrusions, provide actionable assistance to those affected, and share information to prevent future incidents.

Dual-Use Technology as National Security


There has never been a better time to invest in the next wave of American-focused technology innovation. For decades, the US Government has funded research that led to the development of technology like the Internet, GPS, and cellular communications. To compete globally and defend domestically, future generations require the same public investment, private partnerships, and collective tolerance for risk. This requires backing companies working on meaningful problems related to sustainability, advanced energy, manufacturing, and other sectors that serve the national interest. When you invest in dual-use technology, you accelerate national security, help build America’s technical workforce, and fund ideas that breed prosperity and peace of mind.

Innovation, Geopolitics, and U.S. Competitiveness


Are you passionate about ensuring we build a vibrant, resilient, and prosperous future by tackling the biggest challenges with urgency, dynamism, and innovation? Do you want to contribute to big ideas and projects transforming our economy, national security, and society? Come join our community to meet like-minded innovators helping the United States lead in technology innovation and uphold democratic values. This is an all-of-nation effort requiring the brightest minds in all levels of government (local/state/federal), industry, academia, and civil society. The United States needs a strategic vision to strengthen its long-term competitiveness.

WoC and National Security: Reimagining Our Futures


“We think a lot about whether traditional definitions of national security are enough when it comes to threats to Americans, particularly women of color, at home and abroad.” Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins. As threats posed to the United States national security become more intense, the U.S. must reimagine what it considers a threat to its national security. This discussion session aims to deduce ways in which Americans define national security. A few of the questions we will discuss include: How do we define and address domestic terrorism? How does cybersecurity intersect with national security? Does national security include the protection of Brown and Black Americans?

A New Era of Venture Capital Backed Defense


The invention of GPS. The internet. Radios. Jet engines. Silicon Valley’s first IPO. All transformative moments that have changed society, invented by the military.

Many of the technologies that underpin our daily lives have their roots in government grants, research, or contracts. But the same could not be said of today’s inventions. When did the paths of innovation and establishment diverge? What can be done to bring them back together? This session will explore the so-called “valley of death” that has emerged – where companies can’t sustain the years-long time between R&D and government contract – and how venture capital is stepping up to bridge that critical gap. With industry, investors, and government working together, can re-gain the spirit of innovation in aerospace and defense?

Accelerating Energy Independence


The DoDx Innovation Community is launching a Joint Energy Initiative called Blue Energy centered around creating unity of effort across the joint forces to rapidly prototype and field transformative energy technologies. The focus will be around energy contentested logistics, electrification of transportation, efficiency within aerospace/space, and infrastructure and power management. Blue Energy will act as a pathfinder to accelerate the Department of Defense’s energy resilience and independence, which are critical for our national and global security . Learn how Blue Energy is developing a supportive environment to help startups cut through the red tape, buy down risk, and scale across the DoD. The panel will offer a two-way dialogue with leaders of the Blue Energy program

DoD Focuses on Civic Ed for Next Gen Military


The Department of Defense is investing in civic education. iCivics is working with the DoD to prepare the next generation of leaders in military and public service and running a pilot in Miami Dade, the country’s third largest district, that teaches the intersection of civics, service, and leadership within the classroom and civics through the lens of leadership and service. This panel looks at why Congress deems civic education a national priority – and the resources around this mission.

Using Defense Money to Grow your Unicorn


The U.S. Defense Department (DoD) has one of the largest budgets in the world, awarding $445 billion in contracts. Compare that to the private sector where start-up creation and investment was estimated at $105 billion. The DoD represents great opportunities for startups. The defense marketplace is also one of the most complex and bureaucratic landscapes that make navigating it extremely challenging. But lucrative defense contracts that can be landed. Early-stage non-dilutive defense funding has proved pivotal to scale market success. With money available from government programs, startups can actually get paid to develop commercial products. Learn how to navigate the complex Department of Defense and create dual-use companies that can land funding & lucrative DoD contracts.

Co-investing with the Department of the Air Force


Come learn about how we support small businesses and the greater economy with non-dilutive funding and contracting opportunities through our core capabilities: the Open Topic, Specific Topic, and Supplemental Funding Increase Programs (Strategic Financing Increase Program, or STRATFI, and Tactical Funding Increase Program, or TACFI). Join as we discuss opportunities for venture capital and the larger private investment community to co-invest alongside the DAF SBIR/STTR budget to help bridge the valley of death, learn more about the DAF’s investment thesis and upcoming opportunities, and hear from other venture leaders why they pursue the return on investment of investing in dual-use and defense companies.

Space Sustainability & the 2nd Golden Age of Space


SpaceWERX, the US Space Force’s innovation office, seeks to discover and adapt innovation and capabilities from the fast growing space industry toward USSF mission needs and National Security interests. The office funds startup companies to explore product-mission fit which then inform make or buy decisions for later USSF adoption.

SpaceWERX recently launched Orbital Prime, the 1st US effort aimed at demonstrating on-orbit Active Debris Remediation as part of the USSF’s commitment to a sustainable space domain. Orbital Prime aims to unlock the commercial market for In-space Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM), a nascent and completely new upstream market segment within the growing Space economy, by partnering with International, Venture, Academic, and Commercial communities

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