From State of Tandem

State of Tandem: Our Community Has Spoken


J-AbermanOver the last month we went out to our members to learn how our first ten months of operations have gone. We did a representative survey of our members, and organized a subsequent roundtable with a core group of TandemNSI community members. What we learned was interesting, and we think illustrative of both the opportunity and challenges of working to develop a national security product community in the Greater Washington Region. Overall, our message is that there is interest, TandemNSI is making a difference and there is lots more to do in 2015!

Here are few things were learned about how our members feel about the national security establishment and its relationship with entrepreneurs outside of the establishment:

  • Our members believe that there are viable opportunities for them to work with the national security agencies in new ways – 72% of our members, in fact believe that there are opportunities for them if they are provided in a way that allows them to engage.
  • But, they do not believe that government has been successful in reaching out to them.
    • On a scale of 1 to 5 (not very successful to very successful), our community scored the national security establishment as follows:
      • Supporting the growth of new innovations and industries around national security – 2.6
      • Finding ways to reach out to nontraditional sources of innovation – 2.3
      • Facilitating technology transfer and company formation – 2.1
      • Streamlining procurement and contractual rules – 2.0
  • From our roundtable discussion we learned that our members:
    • Have a generally favorable impression of the government representatives that have participated in the TandemNSI community. Members have been often surprised as to how friendly and engaged the government representatives have been.
    • Do not trust the government contractor community.
      • They express significant concern that if they expose their technology to a large government contractor it will be stolen from them.
      • They see them as competitors rather than collaborators.
    • Are concerned that any effort by the national security establishment to provide them with research dollars should also provide opportunities to grow and scale a business either in national security or the private sector. They are most interested in:
      • Access to additional funding or contracts from the government.
      • Preservation of IP rights for commercialization opportunities.
      • Access to private capital.

Regarding the operation of TandemNSI itself we learned some useful things that will drive our programming for 2015.

  • Our events and social media/email activities were deemed the most successful and useful, when compared to our other initiatives.
  • The venture advisor program was deemed to be the least valuable portion of the 2014 programming, although this might have been somewhat constrained by the limited number of entrepreneurs touched by the “hands on” aspect of the program, when measured against the other activities which touched the community as a whole.
  • For event themes the community clearly favored opportunities over resources:
    • Opportunities for partnering or networking, creating new businesses or meeting government personnel that could facilitate startup growth was most favored.
    • Educational opportunities around procurement or understanding the “rules of the road” were also valued.
    • Access to resources such as mentors and capital were given less importance, due to a belief that these resources can be obtained elsewhere when compared to TandemNSI’s opportunity creation which was unique.
  • With respect events our members suggested a broad range of activities for 2015, including:
    • Meet ups with government agencies PMs and POs.
    • Promotion of specific business opportunities.
    • “Pitch days”
    • Teaming opportunities.
    • Hackathons, tech throw downs and access to technology.
    • Case studies
    • Vertical days – robotics, Internet of Things and similar.
    • Roundtable events similar to the roundtable with Governor McAuliffe.

As you can see, we got a lot of great feedback from our members. We are happy with how far we have come, but we also see how far there is to go to achieve our vision. The TandemNSI team is already hard at work on executing against these suggestions and building TandemNSI 2.0 for 2015. Have a great holiday break and we’ll see you in the New Year!


State of Tandem


Jonathan Aberman, Managing Director of Amplifier Ventures and Founder of TandemNSI

About once a quarter, I try to provide everyone with an update on how well we are delivering against our mission to bring together National Security Agencies and high-growth entrepreneurs to advance innovation. Earlier this month, we hosted an event “Discuss: The Government is More Innovative Than you Think.” As has been the case for our events since our launch party in February, we brought together a diverse mix of entrepreneurs and national security agency employees. I know that Trish Barber, our community manager, has already posted a piece on the event so I won’t repeat a discussion about it here. But, it did strike me as I reflected on the event, we really have come a long way in a short time.

Believe it or not, the TandemNSI community has had 22 events since mid February. During that time we’ve added more than 1,000 people to our growing an vibrant community, and have worked with an absolutely alphabet soup collection of agencies: DARPA, DIA, DHS, ONR, Army REF, and Air Force OSR to name a few. When we started TandemNSI with the grant from the Commonwealth, I stated that although I was optimistic that there would prove to be demand, I really had no expectation things would grow so quickly.

As I go about my business here in town I am finding more and more often that TandemNSI is known in and outside of government, as is its message – that to really provide for innovation in the 21st century national security agencies must engage with and work with, the wide range of talented people that currently are invisible to them. They are also hearing the ancillary message that the agencies must change their business practices to make it easier for entrepreneurs and startups to work with our national security establishment. The White Paper we recently released on this topic has reverberated within the Pentagon and elsewhere, and I think that people are starting to listen.

Meanwhile, our business mentorship offering, the Venture Advisors Program, under the direction of Alex Murphy has started to accelerate. You’ll see some interesting case studies on our website now, and expect to see more over the next months. We believed that by bringing experienced serial entrepreneurial advice to federally funded small companies we could help them grow. That certainly seems to be the case.  We’re excited about the Venture Advisor Program, and I hope that you will spread the word about its existence and use it yourself if you are an entrepreneur trying to grow a federally funded technology business.

As we head into the fall, we plan on remaining on path for a strong first year of operations. Events are being set up for September and October to provide further opportunities for our community to meet up, and to share experiences. Look out for further details as we firm up our Coffee and Donuts schedule, as well as events surrounding robotics and other emerging areas. Also expect us to do some more policy work, and share what we are learning about opportunities in our community so that we can all work together to continue to develop our community.

I hope that you are enjoying being part of the growing TandemNSI community and that it is valuable to you. For my part I thank you for being part of what started out as a personal mission, and one that with each day gets more exciting and gratifying.  You know, in many ways, starting TandemNSI was like the experience you have of arranging a party. You know that feeling – it’s 7:10pm and you are wondering if anyone is going to show up.  Well, in a way, starting TandemNSI was like that. So, when you turn up at an event and I look pleased to see you now you know why!

Enjoy the rest of your summer and see you soon,