Meet our latest cohort of Defense Ventures Fellows

The future of defense is public-private partnerships
Defense Ventures is an 8-week fellowship that identifies emerging innovators from the Department of Defense and facilitates industry immersions at venture capital firms, incubators, and startups across the United States. Shift runs this program in partnership with AFWERX, the innovation arm of the Air Force, who created this opportunity for members of the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, Space Force, Coast Guard, Reserve, National Guard and DoD civilians.

Companies who host Defense Ventures Fellows gain insight into the mission of the Department of Defense, new perspectives on the federal marketplace, and forge enduring relationships with the military members they host. 

This fall, these fellows will begin a journey to learn “what great looks like” in emerging technology and bring commercial best practices back to the Department of Defense. The Defense Ventures Program allows fellows to engage directly with the private sector, establish meaningful connections, and develop a more in-depth understanding of business models, dual-use technologies, and solutions to challenging problems. 

Visit shift.org/dvp to learn more about the Defense Ventures Program and how to apply.

Meet the members of Cohort Eight


Rachel Braun is a senior product manager at Kessel Run Experimentation Lab, a U.S. Air Force detachment tasked with developing mission-critical combat software. She leads agile development teams of military, government civilian, and contractor designers and engineers in the continuous development and delivery of enterprise software used by warfighters at Air Operations Centers around the world.

Previously, Rachel managed the technology arm of a veteran employment program with Fortune 100 companies and nonprofits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And, as part of a Joint Task Force, she helped develop Department of Defense training programs under a Presidential Employment Initiative at the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Prior to that, she supported the redevelopment of a New England defense installation from military to civilian use, engaging the private sector in the redevelopment effort. Rachel was named Civilian of the Year for Cyber Operations/Information Technology at Kessel Run in 2020 and a Boston Future Leader by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in 2019. Rachel is a graduate of St. Olaf College, holds an M.S. from the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, and has completed Executive Education at Harvard Business School.


Peter Burns is an Air Force Officer and pilot assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command. In the military, he is passionate about adopting innovations that make people more effective in their role, whether in the office or on the battlefield.

In his previous life, he was self-employed providing startup strategy and marketing consulting as an MBA graduate from the College of Charleston. His civilian work experiences include Apple, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and Hyatt Hotels. He completed Bachelor of Science degrees in Political Science and Justice Studies (pre-law) at Arizona State University and was a scholar at the McCain Institute for International Leadership. His educational experiences have taken him around the world, including stints in Brazil and Israel where he studied global business and counterterrorism, respectively. He is currently pursuing a Master of Science in International Relations, with a regional focus in Europe and Asia. Outside of aviation, his interests include technology, painting, and non-fiction reading.

Vannevar Labs

James Caldwell enlisted in the United States Army in 2012, immediately following high school. Having the determination to be amongst the most efficient team the Department of Defense has to offer, James became a part of the Special Operations Community. It was there where he was placed around the best leaders, developed by the 75th Ranger Regiment.  

Having the opportunity to lead in various environments, and under a multitude of circumstances, James later used those experiences in furthering his education. While being the senior manager of the 75th Ranger Regiment's Pre Selection Course James completed his Bachelor's Degree in Organizational Leadership. One of his short term goals is to continue to further his education with a Masters in Business Administration.  

Being a servant leader, mentor, and change consultant inspired James to value the people over the process. Understanding that growth and development must be at the nucleus of every successful organization.


Sean Chao is a highly experienced knowledge leader in the domains of finance, intelligence and cyber security. He is a trusted professional with over a decade of experience in both the public and private sectors; consulted organizations ranging from Morgan Stanley to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Expertly adept at leading organizations, Mr. Chao has led everything from small teams to helming entire businesses.


Captain Connor Crilly is an Air Force Acquisitions Officer assigned to the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles, California. He currently works as a Program Manager, leading the Source Selection for a $2M commercial prototype under development with the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC).

Previously, Capt Crilly oversaw business operations and managed an engineering team as part of the Air Force’s $500M Launch Services Agreement (LSA) effort, working in partnership with both Northrop Grumman Space Systems and Blue Origins LLC.

Before this, Capt Crilly earned a Bachelor of Science in Astronautical Engineering with a minor in Japanese from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. In his free time, Capt Crilly likes working out, going to the beach with friends, and learning new things from salsa dancing to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

De Bruin
Decisive Point

Daniel De Bruin is an active duty Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician who has been serving for 17 years. While based out of Spain, he served on deployments across the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, specializing in response to hazardous devices, mitigating risk to military and civilians. After that, he took the opportunity to share his experience as an instructor. His ten-person team supervised thousands of the high-risk training hours required to best prepare servicemembers to deploy while authoring and implementing a ten-day curriculum designed to address identified gaps in underwater navigation.

On completion of his time as an instructor, he was hand-selected to apply his talents to a new combat development team working to solve problems facing first responders everywhere.  As Dan serves in research and development, he assesses emergent technology to transition from the commercial sector to the military. He works to identify new technology that satisfies military requirements, researching material solutions. His efforts guide innovations through the defense testing and evaluation and acquisition process, providing special operations forces with the best technical capability. He lives and works in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with his wife and dog, traveling and exploring whenever they find the time.

Ian D.
Insight Partners

Chief Master Sergeant Ian D. Eishen is the Senior Enlisted Leader for the CSAF Strategic Studies Group at the Pentagon and has spent twenty-one years and eight deployments in the special operations and intelligence communities. He advises the Air Staff in a diverse portfolio including artificial intelligence, quantum, disruptive technologies, and talent management. Ian manages many initiatives focused on developing next generation Airmen, digital transformation and developing business relationships with coalition and joint partners, academia, the tech industry, and the intelligence community.

Since 2017, he has worked with Hacking4Defense, a DoD sponsored university course that instructs students to address emerging threats and security challenges in the Defense and Intelligence Communities. His work with Stanford University, the U.S. Air Force Academy and the University of Virginia has spurred multiple solutions that have been scaled in the U.S. Air Force and Navy. Ian has also launched many products and prototypes focused on combating suicidal ideation including a graphic novel anthology titled “True War Stories” in which veterans address trauma through storytelling.

Ian lives in Fairfax, Virginia with his wife and two children and holds a Master Degree in International Relations through the University of Oklahoma.


Lieutenant Nick Forrest is an active duty officer among the Air Force Analytic Community. He currently serves as an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Solutions Architect and core member of the Department of the Air Force's Artificial Intelligence Cross-Functional Team within Air Force Futures at the Pentagon. In this position, Nick guides Service-level AI investment and implementation strategies to democratize the use of AI across all core mission areas and business operations within the Air and Space Forces.

Prior to Air Force Futures, Nick led quick-turn pandemic analysis to guide Department of Defense response and developed the Air Force's go-to COVID-19 decision aid tool, which provided real-time decision support tailored to almost 900 defense installations. He is Co-Founder of an AI startup creating a simplified job marketplace to provide tailored job and employer recommendations that limit choice overload.

Nick holds a B.S. in Operations Research from the United States Air Force Academy and a M.S. in Operations Research from the Air Force Institute of Technology, where he earned Dean's Award for his work prototyping elements of an AI instructor pilot. Outside of the office, Nick is an avid traveler who appreciates good food, good people, and gaining new perspectives through conversation and experience.


Master Sergeant Brian Hermes is the Curriculum Development Manager for the Diagnostic Imaging Program at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.  Prior to this assignment, he was the enlisted leader for Phoenix Spark, the Air Force’s first Spark cell.  Sergeant Hermes now leads Alamo Spark, the Medical Education and Training Campus’s innovation group.  His team delivers education innovation initiatives through four lines of effort: Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, Additive Manufacturing, Virtual and Augmented Reality, and Video Production.

Sergeant Hermes has coordinated several SBIR opportunities totaling over $9M with numerous stakeholders, while also working with several small businesses to pivot their technology to better meet Air Force needs.  In February 2021, he completed cohort 4 of the Innovatrium course hosted by Air University and University of Michigan Ross Business School.  Through those efforts, his team was awarded $450K to run an Air Force wide experiment.  

Master Sergeant Hermes holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Six Sigma Black Belt through the American Society for Quality, and is an MBA candidate at Kelley Business School.

Bow Capital

Edgar Higham is a Cyber Systems Operations Specialist with seventeen years of active-duty service. His background includes a broad spectrum of multi-domain, strategic and operational assignments. All ranging from open-source analysis and cyber network operations to deliberate and dynamic kinetic and non-kinetic efforts across multiple major commands worldwide.  

In his current role, he leads an elite red cell team of highly technical civilian, contractor, and military personnel in integrated employment of information related capabilities, full spectrum threat analysis, and signature management. He fuses cyber operations, analytical research, and operational risk management in support of multi-functional solutions within the information environment. Edgar directs research and development of risk management tools, organizational assets, and innovative tactics, techniques, and procedures in an agile and highly energetic environment in support of the Department of Defense.  

Prior to his current assignment Edgar headed several teams focused on cyber threat detection, systems protection, as well as crisis response and anomaly resolution for space and ground system communication networks vital to the intelligence community. He is a passionate leader with strategic communication expertise and an unwavering commitment to his people, the mission, and his country.  Edgar is originally from Guatemala and currently resides in North Carolina with his girlfriend, daughter and two dogs.

Joby Aviation

Commander Ken Hockycko serves as a Director of a Management Consulting Team and Senior Leader Education facilitator on the Joint Staff.  He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2000 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics and was designated a Naval Aviator in 2002.   In 2014, he was recognized as the Naval Air Force Atlantic Attack Aviator of the Year.  From 2019-2020, he commanded an F/A-18 squadron onboard USS Harry S Truman in support of Operations ‘Inherent Solve’ and ‘Resolute Support’.  

Non-flying tours include graduate education at Dartmouth College, where he earned a Master of Business Administration with studies in Public Policy and International Relations at Harvard and Tufts Universities (2012); Speechwriter to the Secretary of the Navy (2015-2016); and, U.S. Senate Legislative Fellow (2017).  

Ken is a National Defense University’s Program for Emerging Leaders on Weapons of Mass Destruction Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies Leadership Fellow, and a graduate of the Georgetown Government Affairs Institute’s Military Fellows Program.

Moonshots Capital

Major Artur Maryamov is a Cyberspace Operations Officer in the Maryland Air National Guard. He is assigned to the 175th Cyberspace Operations Squadron, where he serves as the Director of Mobility & Plans.

Prior to transferring to the Air National Guard, Artur served on active duty as an Operations Research Analyst.  Artur earned two Bachelor of Science degrees at the University of Toledo: Computer Science & Engineering, and Electrical Engineering. While serving on active duty, Artur also completed a Masters of Business Administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, concentrating in New Venture Management. During his time at UNLV, Artur competed twice in the Donald W. Reynolds Business Plan Competition, with his team placing 1st in the 2016 and 2nd in 2017 Nevada state competitions.  

On the civilian side, Artur works as a software engineer and project lead at Novetta Solutions. In his free time, Artur enjoys reading and playing strategy and 4X video games. Artur speaks fluent Russian, has a functional knowledge of Ukrainian, which he is currently studying to improve.


Captain Louis McCullagh is a Technology Program Manager serving in the Air Force’s Lifecycle Management Center. In this role, he manages risk and innovation efforts focused on integrating a $57M next-generation radar system into the Defense Department’s overall theater battle control systems architecture. Additionally, he is responsible for facilitating $12M in research funding to field a strategically significant radar platform that appropriately synchronizes information for numerous joint warfighting stakeholders.

Captain Louis McCullagh received his commission and bachelor’s degree from the United States Air Force Academy where he studied Economics. After his time as an undergraduate, Louis headed to Mississippi to train as a Cyber Operations Officer and subsequently was stationed in Quantico, Virginia working for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. During this assignment he ascended to the role of Director of Operations for the Air Force’s counterintelligence activities in cyberspace. During his time in Virginia, Captain McCullagh earned a master’s degree in technology management through Georgetown University.

Material Security

Major Stefanie Noel is an Air Force pilot with over 2,300 manned and unmanned flight hours in the C-130 E/H/J and RQ-4. She is currently serving as an instructor at the formal training unit for all incoming crewmembers for the RQ-4, a high-altitude unmanned aircraft that primarily collects images and signals intelligence to support US initiatives across the entire globe. As an unmanned aerial vehicle expert, she is knowledgeable on link architecture, managing cross-functional remote teams, and how that environment is ripe for the introduction of AI and machine learning. Throughout her career, she has been a successful program manager for operational and non-operational departments. As the director of compliance inspections, she led over 250 inspectors in the planning and execution of 3 multi-day exercises to ensure wartime readiness of the entire base of over 8,000 people.

She is a graduate of the US Air Force Academy with a BS in Operations Research and went on to get her MS in Operations Management from the University of Arkansas. She currently lives just outside of Sacramento, California with her husband, two young daughters, and hound dog.

Countdown Capital

Skyler Norris is driving innovation at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).  At NGA , Skyler is an executive lead for the NGA Product Community.  The NGA Product Community is an initiative by NGA’s CTO with the aim of modernizing the way NGA builds tech products.   One of the groups first goals was to start to transition NGA from program-based development to product-based development.  Skyler led the effort to formalize the Product Manager work role for the over 8,000 employees at the agency.  This was one of the first successful rollouts of a Product Manager work role in the DoD.    In addition to his duties with the NGA Product Community, Skyler is the product manager for Enterprise File Delivery (EFD), one of the agency’s flagship dissemination products.  EFD has users spanning all branches of the military and Intelligence Community.    

Before joining NGA, Skyler graduated with a degree in Computer Science and Stats from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2017.  After college, Skyler worked as the first Software Engineer for a logistics startup in his hometown of Chicago.  Skyler is motivated by empowering users across the DoD through technology and innovation.

Major Adam Rowh, MD, is an Emergency Services Physician serving in the Oregon Air National Guard, where he is Chief Clinician for the Chemical, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRN) Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) of the 142nd Wing. Dr. Rowh is the lead medical resource for the mission - he manages clinical and training activities for the physicians, APPs, nurses, and medics in the unit.

As a civilian, Dr. Rowh is a practicing board-certified emergency physician. After graduating with honors as a Global Health Scholar from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, he practiced as academic faculty at the Temple University emergency medicine residency program. He has taught and worked in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia as a recipient of multiple grants including from the NIH and CDC. In April 2020, he volunteered in New York City as a critical care physician in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.        He also served as Medical Director and a volunteer member of a busy SAR/Mountain Rescue Unit in the Pacific Northwest, as well as Medical Director and team physician for a law enforcement Special Operations (SWAT) unit. His extensive experience in wilderness medicine includes serving as Medical Officer for scientific expeditions with NASA/JPL and National Geographic on Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens.

Lt Tai Sunnanon is the Flight Commander of the Military Personnel Flight at March ARB. He leads a team of 50, impacting all 4,000 members of the largest reserve base in the Air Force. Lt Sunnanon manages five sections, including Force Management, Career Development, Customer Support, Installation, Personnel Readiness and Personnel Systems Management. His responsibility is to improve, elevate and empower processes that support the Base’s mission and readiness.  

Lt Sunnanon brings 25-years-experience as CEO of 5 companies. He earned two masters’ degrees and completed his doctoral coursework at Harvard University, where he also taught graduate-level courses for 6 years. Lt Sunnanon speaks 7 languages and serves as the President of the Company Grade Officers’ Council.

Decisive Point

Owen Unbehaun is a Combat Controller at the 125th Special Tactics Squadron in Portland, OR. Owen is driven by a passion for finding new solutions to problems and integrating existing resources in innovative ways to achieve success, both on the battlefield and off.

Prior to joining the Air National Guard, Owen served on active duty as a Combat Controller at the 21st Special Tactics Squadron at Pope Air Force Base. His career includes multiple combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Owen specializes in integration of air assets supporting ground operations, while serving on the ground with elite Special Operations units.

When not on duty as a Combat Controller, Owen had the honor of working at Gramercy Cellars, a nationally-acclaimed winery founded by Master Sommelier Greg Harrington. Over the course of two short years he rose from washing dishes to the position of Cellar Master. Owen graduated from Whitman College in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Geology. He now lives in Walla Walla, WA, with his wife Kathryn.

Shield AI

Clare Welsh serves as the current Chief of ISR Operations and Advanced Training at the US Air Force Warfare Center, Nellis AFB, Nevada. She is responsible for the employment of Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities during multi-service training and testing programs.

After her graduation from the United States Air Force Weapons School, Clare was head of Tactics and Integration at the 692d ISR Group, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, directing Air Force elements within NSA and DCGS supporting INDOPACOM operations.

Clare comes to Defense Ventures Program with 10 years of experience in multi-disciplinary geospatial, electronic and cryptologic intelligence operations supporting various missions sets in both the United States Central Command and Indo-Pacific Command’s Areas of Responsibility.

MIT Lincoln Labs

Captain Caleb Winningham is an Air Force Cyberspace Effects Operations officer assigned to the 805th Combat Training Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base. Here, he works within his unit’s innovation directorate as both a product manager and software engineer. With a squadron focus on the rapid progression of Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) and Advanced Air Battle Management System (ABMS) efforts, Caleb specializes in the development, integration, and performance analysis of new products.

Previously, he has worked as an IT and Cybersecurity director and has extensive experience developing and orchestrating information security programs. With a passion for “bringing the future faster,” Caleb has also led a 140+ member, multi-organizational cross-functional team targeted at solving base problems. In this role, he drove the execution of over $1.2M of innovation-specific funds and oversaw the creation of both a software development team and an innovation center.

Caleb holds a Master’s Degree in Computer Science with a specialization in Interactive Intelligence from the Georgia Institute of Technology, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the United States Air Force Academy. He currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada with his wonderful wife, Rachel, and their two dogs.