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 Eleven

Jimmy Antia serves as team lead for the Innovation & Learning Division of the Institute for Security Governance, with a focus in creating assessment, monitoring and evaluation policies for Institutional Capacity Building programs and aiding the US Department of Defense in implementing AME reforms across Security Cooperation programs.

As a national security expert he focuses on security cooperation, special operations, post-conflict reconstruction, monitoring and evaluation, and fragile state issues. Mr. Antia is a former member of the Department of Defense's Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict office, where he created performance and evaluation guidelines for a $1 billion security cooperation program. His governmental experience includes working in terms with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Jimmy studied environmental and development issues in Costa Rica as a Fullbright scholar. He holds a B.A. in urban planning from the University of Illinois, and an M.A. in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Coactive ÅI

Lucas Carita  is a Navy helicopter (MH60-S) pilot with nine years of active-duty service. He is currently second-in-command and senior program manager of the Department of Naval Science at USMMA. Lucas instructs Leadership and Ethics, as well as varying naval science courses.

 He first deployed to the Middle East as the manager of the avionics team and the unit’s communications officer, leading development of the unit’s encrypted communication infrastructure. During his second deployment,  Lucas served as second-in-command supporting deployed forces in Bahrain. 

Lucas earned an Industrial Engineering degree from USF and a MBA (STEM) from Columbia Business School with curricula focused  in data science, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.  He was selected as a Climate Fellow to develop a go-to-market strategy for a cleantech startup and was sponsored by Columbia’s Chemical Engineering department to conduct independent research on energy storage innovations in aviation applications. He is from Orlando, Florida and currently resides in New York City. Lucas enjoys skiing, hiking, real estate investing, and is a member of a dodgeball league.

Squadra Ventures

William Cavin is a Navy Cryptologic Warfare Officer with experience in national and tactical signal intelligence platforms. Currently, he manages a diverse portfolio of R&D investments as a Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative at Navy Cyber Warfare Development Group in Washington, DC. Specifically, he focuses on providing systems engineering, RF propagation, and cyber expertise to nine efforts across four unique R&D portfolios. 

He has previously worked in the Directorate of Operations at the National Security Agency, where he focused on leveraging a holistic SIGINT architecture to identify and track bad actors. Additionally, he has served as the officer-in-charge to all cryptologists (linguists and signal analysts) assigned to Isa Air Base, Bahrain. As the mission manager, he oversaw the signal intelligence mission for the EP-3E ARIES II, a Navy reconnaissance aircraft, which performed intelligence-gathering flights in the Middle East.

Since 2018, he has worked as a Suicide Prevention Advocate at the National Security Agency, and now through the Crisis Text Line. He is currently completing a Master of Science in Accounting through the University of Maryland Global Campus and has a Bachelor of Science in Economics, with Merit, from the United States Naval Academy.

1st Lt. Andrew Cuccia is an Air Force Acquisitions Officer currently serving as Flight Mission Lead for the 5th Space Launch Squadron at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, FL. As a Flight Mission Lead, he coordinates launch vehicle contractor operations and space vehicle processing with Space Systems Command, Space and Missile Center, NASA, and the Eastern Range. Lt. Cuccia directly identifies launch processing risks, resolves issues, and enables the integrated team's "GO/NO-GO" for day of launch operations.

Lt. Cuccia recently stood up the first-ever Space Force Spark innovation cell at Patrick Space Force Base (SFB), FL. The Patrick SFB Spark Cell exists to inspire a culture of innovation and empower unit-level Airmen & Guardians to swiftly advance ideas, develop prototypes, and implement solutions to warfighter needs. Lt. Cuccia believes that bridging the gap between DoD and industry and rapidly integrating new technology are vital to our nation's continued success.

Lt. Cuccia began his enlisted career as a civil engineer airman and was commissioned through the Air Force Officer Training School. His assignments include bases in Missouri, Nevada, Montana, and Florida. He has deployed three times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and most recently in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Lt. Cuccia is lovingly supported by his wife and three sons.

Captain Joseph Drake is an Air Force Officer and instructor pilot at the 492d Attack Squadron at March ARB, under Air Force Air Education and Training Command.  He instructs at the formal training unit where he is responsible for preparing next generation unmanned aviators for combat, using the newest technology, tactics, techniques, and procedures.

 Joseph prides himself at being a part of the USAF remote piloted aircraft enterprise, where the airmen he leads utilize cutting edge technologies, global link structures at geographically separated units, and constantly adapt to changing mission sets unlike any other airframe. Joseph is a forward-leaning advocate for unmanned airpower and firm believer in the power of transformational leadership to tackle organizational challenges.

Joseph received his commission and bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy where he studied Mechanical Engineering. He is also nearing completion of his MBA through Liberty University. Joseph lives with his wife and three children in California.

Adyton PBC

Peter Foschi is a Combat Rescue Officer in the United States Air Force with seven years of experience and four combat deployments. He leads teams of Pararescuemen during rescue operations in degraded and chaotic environments. Additionally, he advises US and Allied units in risk mitigation analysis and in developing contingency rescue plans. In his current role, he directs day-to-day operations and logistics for a combat search and rescue unit in Tucson, Arizona. He ensures that rescue teams and equipment are prepared to meet any situation, anywhere. Prior to his current position Peter was stationed at Lakenheath Air Base in the United Kingdom where he collaborated with NATO partners to help design their own rescue units.

Peter received a BS in English from the United States Air Force Academy in 2014. When not at work he can be found tending to his garden, at his wood lathe, or backpacking in the Arizona wilderness with his wife.

Decisive Point

Damon George is an enlisted active-duty member of the U.S. Navy with 17 years of experience within Naval Special Warfare. He has spent most of his time on the East Coast completing multiple Joint and Interagency deployments across the Middle East and Africa. He has led small teams through intricate training exercises and developed Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP’s) to solve complex national mission priorities.

Currently, Damon leads a small team within the NSW community as the program manager tasked with the research, development, testing and evaluation (RDT&E) of cutting-edge equipment designed to advance the combat effectiveness of his community. He is a graduate of University of Charleston with a Bachelor’s in Organizational Leadership and currently enrolled with Johns  Hopkins University pursuing a master’s in organizational leadership.

Damon lives in Virginia with his wife and two boys. He spends his time outdoors, watching football with his boys, and is an avid skydiver.


Frederick Gregory  is the Neurophysiology of Cognition Program Manager and extramural lead for DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory’s Humans in Complex Systems Research Competency. In these roles, he establishes the scientific vision to lead in identifying and enabling the execution of high-risk high payoff 6.1 extramural basic research intent on developing future Army capabilities to promote cognitive dominance and human-intelligent autonomous agent teaming. He leads the initiation of new multi-disciplinary basic research opportunities at universities and small businesses in addition to establishing collaborations between international researchers and Army scientists. He recently served a 5-year detail in London at DEVCOM Atlantic Headquarters leading the international Human Dimension program for Army Research Office.

Dr. Gregory received a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Morehouse College and doctoral degree in Neurobiology from the University of California-Los Angeles. He did postdoctoral training, first, as an Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Awards (IRACDA) Teaching and Research Postdoctoral Fellow in Pharmacology at Emory University and then in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Iowa. Prior to Army civilian service, he was Program Manager for the John H. Hopps Jr. Defense Research Scholars Program and Adjunct faculty member at Morehouse College.

Pallas Advisors

Greg Knuston is a career Naval Aviator with over 20 years of experience. He has experience in manned and unmanned teaming of helicopters and has developed tactics, techniques and procedures to effectively employ their sensors and weapon systems. While working closely with Centers of Excellence and industry partners, he enabled the first remote lasing from an unmanned system for a remote missile shoot in the Atlantic. In between his six deployments, Greg was assigned to the Pentagon in the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance directorate and provided advice on the global allocation of sensitive airborne, sub-surface and space platforms.

While serving as a Commanding Officer, Greg led a team of instructors that were tasked with developing policy in procedural standardization, technical education and airborne tactics. Also, he was involved in operational testing of emerging technologies in Electro-Optical/Infrared, acoustic and aircraft self-defense sensors. Currently, Greg is the Operations Officer for 2,600 personnel aboard a nuclear aircraft carrier, focusing on project management and continuous process improvement.

Greg holds a B.S. in Oceanography from the United States Naval Academy and a M.S. in Global Leadership from the University of San Diego. He also maintains Project Management Professional and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification.


Erik Leklem is a Regional Operations Manager, Asia-Pacific, at the Institute for Security Governance. He leads advisory teams conducting management consulting projects with government clients across the region. Prior to this, Erik was a civil servant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. His roles involved policy, strategy, cyber security capacity building, speechwriting, and legislative affairs. Erik also served in “Deep Blue,” an innovation cell focusing on red teaming and rapid adaptation of new technologies.

Erik has served twice overseas. At the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia, he provided strategic advising services to the Indonesian military. He also volunteered to serve in Afghanistan as a strategy advisor to the Afghan Ministry of Defense. During his career, Erik has worked at the State Department and two Combatant Commands, in organizational design, partnership, and innovation roles.

Erik has been an Adjunct Professor at the George Washington University and authored numerous national security op-eds, articles, and book chapters. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland (Master of Public Policy) and the University of Oregon, Robert D. Clark Honors College (B.A. Political Science/English). Erik has professional certifications in artificial intelligence, design thinking, and strategic advising and negotiations.

Scale AI

Major Anthony (Tony) Maxie is the lead program manager for the portfolio of Headquarters Air Force, Secretary of the Air Force, Space Force and National Capital Region requirements. Major Maxie leads a multifunction team tasked with managing 256 programs valued at $11 Billion including enterprise cyberspace, information technology and systems engineering services.

Major Maxie commissioned in May 2010 and began service as a B-52 Electronic Warfare Program Manager. In 2014 Major Maxie was competitively selected to career broaden into space acquisition contract management for the Military Satellite Program Office at the Space and Missiles Systems Center. He has served in various acquisition positions at the program office, center, major command and headquarters staff levels over the course of his career. Prior to his current assignment, Major Maxie was assigned to the Pentagon. While there, he developed innovative technology solutions to address capability gaps across the enterprise.

Tony holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Faulkner University and a Master’s Degree in Management, Economics Concentration from Harvard University-Extension School. He is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Strategic Cyberspace Studies from National Defense University. Tony is a passionate leader that specializes in strategy development, technology integration and teambuilding.

Shield AI

Major Matthew Moran is an Air Force Weather and Environmental Sciences Officer who has been serving for 14 years. In his current capacity he is an Operations Officer for a Combat Weather Squadron, leading the integration of environmental intelligence into the United States Army Europe and Africa planning and execution process. The spectrum of environmental data fused into these risk-based thresholds include oceanography, ground trafficability, terrestrial weather, and space weather.

Matt’s experiences span the Joint domain and include multiple combat deployments to the Middle East. He specialized in building and maintaining remote data weather sensing networks along with building partner-nation meteorological capabilities. Additionally, Matt led an overhaul of the Air Force’s inspection system across 65% of the Air Force Weather portfolio, spanning Active Duty and Air National Guard units. In this role, he prioritized risk-based inspection strategies, reshaping the inspection culture, and empowering unit commanders to self-assess compliance.

Matt lives in Wiesbaden, Germany with his wife and three children. He graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Synoptic Meteorology. Matt is an avid triathlete, and also enjoys spending time on the golf course and traveling with his family.


Major Ryan Nichol is the Air Force Chief Innovation Officer and a C-17 Evaluator Pilot for 436th Airlift Wing, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. In his role as the Chief Innovation Officer, he directs the installation’s innovation program and connects industry, academia, and Department of Defense resources with Airmen to deliver warfighter solutions. He is responsible for a $3.2M project portfolio and leads the base’s innovation internship program. Major Nichol directly supports 6,000 Total Force Airmen and the Air Mobility Command’s Aerial Port of the Future through digital transformation and innovation efforts. In addition, Ryan evaluates 89 pilots in the tactical and strategic employment of the C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

Ryan was commissioned from the United States Air Force Academy in May 2011 with a degree in Systems Engineering Management and has an MBA from Oklahoma State University. Upon commissioning, Ryan has held numerous leadership positions in the C-17 community and has deployed as the Commander of the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, Detachment 1. In this role, Ryan led 117 members across eight career fields and directed the employment of three C-17 aircraft into combat zones across the Middle East.

Mabon Owens is an Intelligence Officer with eight years of active-duty experience. His background includes maritime-focused tactical and operational leadership assignments with immediate strategic implications. All ranging from ballistic missile defense and long-range maritime targeting to China and Russia intelligence analysis.

In his current role, he leads a systems acquisition and operationalization team driving Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), spearheading private partnerships in order to integrate space, cyber, AI, and knowledge management systems into INDOPACOM operations. For his primary systems portfolio, Maritime Targeting Cell – Afloat, Mabon’s team raised $120M, providing survivable command and control options to Commander, US Pacific Fleet.

Prior to his current role, Mabon led fleet and intel community counterparts in the provision intelligence to deployed forces during 56 INDOPACOM high-priority operations. As a Surface Warfare officer, following a two-year deployment to Japan, he collaborated with the Missile Defense Agency in the successful execution of seven live-fire ballistic missile defense tests, with budgets totaling $4.1B. Intimately familiar with the rapidly increasing capabilities Great Power competitors, Mabon is passionate about modernizing DoD force technologies, tactics, and policies. He is a native of Memphis, TN and holds a B.A. in International Studies through the University of Mississippi.

Decisive Point

Ryan is an active duty Air Force Cyber Defense Operations Superintendent who has been serving for twenty-three years. His background includes roles at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels across five major commands worldwide. These positions included cyber network operations, deployable communications, non-kinetic operations, and special technical operations.

In his current role, he oversees 285 civilian, contractor, and military personnel in the operation and sustainment of $145 Million networks supporting 22 thousand users across 53 units. These actions support the defense of the Indo-Pacific region from near peer threats. He has also worked heavily with AFWERX evaluating technical proposals for 37 corporations seeking Department of the Air Force funding to deliver cutting edge technology for the Department of Defense.

Prior to his current assignment Ryan served as the Senior Enlisted Leader supporting command and control systems support for the Korean Air Operations Center’s Falconer weapons system. He was the principal advisor to the squadron commander on matters affecting the training, effective utilization, operational readiness, mission effectiveness, and professional development of enlisted personnel. Ryan currently lives in Okinawa with his wife and daughter and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science through Trident University.


Captain Alexander Stanga is a Space Intelligence Program Manager who has been serving in the United States Air Force for more than 8 years. In his current role, he leads a highly skilled team of engineers to solve some of the hardest problems within the Department of Defense. He developed a cloud-first family of systems for the intelligence community that fuses Artificial Intelligence with disparate sensors and systems to gain actionable intelligence information. Recently, Alex awarded multiple contracts through the Space Enterprise Consortium (SpEC) to research and develop next-generation sensors and algorithms for Space Defense applications. 

His background includes a broad spectrum of space operations, nuclear deterrence, and intelligence community assignments. He began his career as a Space Systems Engineer for military communication satellites where he worked on the operations floor to provide critical, world-wide communications for the President and warfighters. Afterwards, he transitioned into a program manager role where he oversaw a $1.1 Billion nuclear airborne launch system modernization effort for the next-generation Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program.

Captain Alexander Stanga holds a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from South Dakota State University and graduated with his MBA. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate at Arizona State University, College of Health Solutions.


Major Jordan Tackett is an Air Force B-52H Instructor Pilot currently serving as an Assistant Director of Operations in a combat bomber squadron and as the Wing Innovation Officer. Maj Tackett’s mission is to be at the intersection of operations and innovation, connecting front-line warfighters with the tools, technology and other innovations they need to be successful.

Previously, he served 4 years as a Rated Air Liaison Officer, attached to an infantry division, where he advised the Commanding General on effective use of air power in support of the ground commanders objectives. While serving there, he developed his passion for innovation by helping develop the 2035 Tactical Air Control Party Concept of Employment and an equipment management solution adapted by six other squadrons.

Jordan holds Master’s Degree in Management and Leadership from Liberty University as well as a Bachelor’s of Civil Engineering from the University of Kentucky. He also completed the Air Force Global Strike Commands Striker Airman Coder program, a 6 month immersive software development program designed to build a proficient in-house full-stack development capability to AFGSC pain points. He currently resides in Bossier City, Louisiana with his wife, and two children.

Lt Col James Trimble, PhD is an Air Force Reconnaissance Pilot and the Chief of Innovation for the 461st Air Control Wing at Robins AFB, GA. He has served a total of 15 years in Air Combat Command and Air Education and Training Command and has completed 5 deployments to Asia and the Middle East. In his current role, he capitalizes on new opportunities through the integration of emerging technology and strategic partnerships. He has driven the adoption of augmented and virtual reality, additive manufacturing, data analytics, digital health, and software engineering within the wing.

Previously, he has served in various roles including Chief of Training, Chief of Flight Safety, Group Executive Officer, Airmanship Program Manager, and Software Management and Analysis Officer. Notable accomplishments include development of a flight safety analytics application for which he received the AETC nomination for the Arthur S. Flemming Award; creation of the USAFA Introduction to Soaring program which boosted cadet exposure to aviation; and development of software to analyze training and deployment cycles for 428 aircrew.

In his free time, Lt Col Trimble enjoys programming, digital fabrication, photography, cycling, and traveling. He currently lives in Middle Georgia with his wife and two daughters.

de la Pena

Lieutenant Zachary T. de la Pena is the Navy Deputy Branch Chief for Operations Support at the Defense Countering Terrorism Center within the Defense Intelligence Agency.

As an active-duty Naval Officer, he has spent the last seven years and two operational deployments in Carrier Strike Group Warfare, Naval Special Warfare, and Strategic Intelligence. He currently advises intelligence community leadership on joint defense intelligence war plans. Before the Navy, Zach did financial analytics for a major consulting firm.

Zach earned his Bachelors in Political Science from California State University San Marcos and his Masters of Business Analytics from Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Zach lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Kim and their yellow lab, Pike.