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 Ten

Shield AI

Andrew Batten is a career aviation officer possessing a diverse background in combat operations, homeland security, technology development, and partnership building. As a member of the Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team – focal point for Army aviation modernization – Andrew managed a $2 billion science & technology portfolio fueling development of the future Army aviation family of systems, the Army’s third modernization priority. He accelerated technologies for transition to initial production aircraft slated for 2030, while developing advanced capabilities for adoption on future manned and unmanned increments.

Andrew also served as the Team’s International Engagement Lead, orchestrating bilateral and multilateral agreements for international S&T efforts and Future Vertical Lift acquisition strategies. As the US Army representative to the NATO Next Generation Rotorcraft Specialist Group, he cultivated US & NATO rotorcraft development and interoperability collaboration.

Andrew and his wife live in South Carolina with their two sons. He holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Wake Forest University and a Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies from the US Army War College.


Steven Brandt is a Contracting Officer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base where he works on modernization contracts for the MQ-9 Predator/Reaper program. He previously earned his Master in Public Policy at Harvard University and then served 3 years at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom supporting F-15 and refueling sorties across Europe. During his time in the UK, he was deployed on a 6-month NATO deployment in 2020 where he spearheaded numerous base support, construction, and COVID-related procurement efforts.

Steven has previously led innovation efforts at the base level and with the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. He holds Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Federal Contract Manager (CFCM) certifications and avidly pursues higher education. He takes classes weekly to upkeep his French proficiency and is pursuing a second master’s in International Business Administration from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. He has a passion for international relations and African Studies. He has been to 12 countries in Africa and hopes to visit all 54 one day.

Steven lives in Columbus, OH where he loves to go to concerts, play guitar, run, and travel.

Shield AI

Gordon Deng is an IT Specialist for the Weather Operations and Policy Branch at HQ U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, Ramstein Air Base. He is the technical lead in managing Weather IT systems and sensors in 20 locations across Europe and Africa. He is also the secretary of a NATO working group, where he facilitates collaboration between partner countries on the advancement of IT systems supporting Meteorology.

Gordon thrives on innovation and draws from his diverse background to engineer solutions, which includes more than 12 years of active-duty service operating, designing, managing, testing, and fielding IT solutions. He has previously designed tactical communications architectures, managed developmental testing of command-and-control software, and oversaw technical requirements for a wide area surveillance sensor in a rapid acquisition office.

Gordon has a bachelor’s in electrical engineering with a minor in computer science from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and a master’s in systems management-information systems from Florida Institute of Technology. Gordon is also an AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate and a graduate of the Airmen Coders Software Development Immersive program.

In his spare time, he contributes to the development of a deployment readiness app within the TRON software factory. He also enjoys travelling, photography, and working on various home improvement projects. He currently resides in Ramstein, Germany with his wonderful wife and 3 children.

MIT Lincoln Labs

Darshan Divakaran is an aerospace intrapreneur and technology evangelist with expertise in unmanned aviation, aviation development, geospatial analysis, emerging technologies, and program management. He has led efforts to work with federal government, state & local agencies, public safety agencies, industries, and academia to develop, integrate and manage statewide programs and initiatives. His areas of expertise in unmanned aviation also includes Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM), Counter-UAS (CUAS) and Urban Air Mobility. Darshan works for the U.S. Air Force as Senior Operations Research Analyst with the AFWERX program.

At AFWERX, he also serves as the program manager on Agility Prime, a non-traditional program seeking to accelerate the commercial market for advanced air mobility, and AFVentures, innovative grant programs (SBIR/STTR) for small businesses. In addition, he supports the industry engagement, outreach, and educational initiatives for AFWERX nationally. Darshan is also the founder president of AUVSI North Carolina, a nonprofit that focuses on education and outreach in unmanned systems.

Darshan holds a MS in Geospatial Information Science and Technology from North Carolina State University and BS in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He is also an FAA certified commercial pilot with multi-engine rating and holds a FAA part 107 remote pilot certificate.


Caitlin Haugh is a Navy helicopter pilot with nine years of active-duty service. During her military career, she has amassed more than 1,400 flight hours and has completed three deployments in support of operations in the Middle East, Somalia, and global partnerships. Her current role is the Air Operations Officer for Commander, Amphibious Squadron Three onboard the USS MAKIN ISLAND. She serves as a recognized expert for planning and coordinating air operations for Navy and Marine Corps aviation assets. During this role, she provided guidance in executing several international tasking missions, coordinated the first ever at-sea delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, and executed numerous medical evacuations into Oman, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

Caitlin has also served as an instructor pilot for the MH-60S Knighthawk in San Diego. She trained student pilots in emergency procedure handling and advanced helicopter tactics including qualifying students in specialized missions such as combat search and rescue, special warfare support, and vertical replenishment for ships at sea.

She is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and has earned an Executive Master of Business Administration from the Naval Postgraduate School. Caitlin lives in San Diego with her husband and they enjoy paddle boarding on the weekends.

Lt Col Tim Houston is an experienced Air Force instructor pilot, adjunct Assistant Professor, and non-profit leader. He has flown over 4,000 hours in multiple manned and unmanned aircraft all over the world. He currently serves as a Squadron Commander at Patrick Space Force Base, Florida responsible for organizing, training, and equipping Airmen to support the combat rescue mission. In his previous assignment he was assigned as the chief program manager for a $50 million+ portfolio in charge of planning, programming, budgeting, and execution of unmanned aircraft systems for the Air Force Reserve Command.

As a civilian, Tim earned his Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science and teaches aviation human factors, safety, and unmanned aircraft systems courses as an adjunct Assistant Professor for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He has developed award-winning online graduate courses and is passionate about promoting innovation in the aviation and human factors industries. Lt Col Houston is also a veterans advocate and serves as a board member and chapter President of Wounded Eagle UAS, a non-profit focused on training and employing wounded warriors in the unmanned systems industry.

Tim currently resides in the Melbourne, Florida area with his wife, two kids, and two dogs.

The Engine

Robert Jensen holds 20 years of experience in Applied Sciences, and currently leads the Materials Data Science in the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate for the US Army Research Laboratory.

Prior to current assignment, he was the acting lead for ARL Northeast in the Boston area. He also served 4 years of active duty in the US Navy before completing his undergraduate degree in chemistry.

Rob earned a PhD in Physical Chemistry from Virginia Tech and is a subject matter expert in adhesive bonding of lightweight armor. He resides in Boston with his wife and two sons.

Major Jenny Ji, USSF, is Director of Operations – Engineering for the 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron, responsible for optimizing EW capabilities of Air Combat Command’s 2500+ fighter, rescue, attack and Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft. With the recent standup of the Spectrum Warfare Wing, Maj Ji is also responsible for expanding interoperability between unique datalinks and platform systems.

Previously, Maj Ji was stationed at the Space and Missiles Systems Center, launching the first two GPS III satellites; one of which was also the first mission for National Security Space Launch on the SpaceX Falcon 9. Major Ji has worked internationally in South Korea under the Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program where she collaborated with Korean defense researchers on basic and emerging sensor technologies in ISR. She has had a deployment to Afghanistan where she processed over $100M worth of counter-improvised explosive devices, and equipment for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and ISR.

Major Ji graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering and holds a Master of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

An engaging, culture-enhancing Naval Officer, Captain Dave Kurtz has made a career out of thriving in unfamiliar situations. After earning designation as a Naval Flight Officer, he excelled at making rapid, informed decisions based on learned procedures while still driving innovation as a tactics instructor.

Through his journey into senior leadership, Dave has consistently sought new challenges, diving into the legislative process as a Fellow in the House of Representatives; gaining insight into the future of conflict while shaping cyber operations policy on the Joint Staff; thriving in the military’s most academically rigorous environment, Navy Nuclear Power School; and most recently serving as a career aviator commanding a Navy warship. Dave has led organizations from 170 to 4800 people, earning awards each time he has been in command. He has commanded a combat squadron and an amphibious warship, served as Executive Officer of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from the US Naval Academy, a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the US Naval War College, and earned certificates in Advanced Legislative Studies from the Georgetown Government Affairs Institute and Data Analytics from MIT Sloan School of Business.


Master Sergeant Angelo Lowrie is the Continuous Improvement and Innovation (CI2) Process Manager for RAF Lakenheath, UK. He coaches and mentors a cadre of over 400 process improvement practitioners through the utilization of Lean tools and innovative technologies to streamline processes throughout the installation. During the two years in this position, he laid the foundation for the creation of the first Spark Cell in Europe, Liberty Spark, which has become the focal point for innovation in the United States Air Forces in Europe command. Angelo also developed the installation's first ever CI2 roadmap, establishing the vision and priorities of the program, which empowers Airmen to accelerate change throughout the wing.

Prior to his current role, Angelo served as a Manpower Superintendent where he utilized and developed business analysis tools, negotiated strategic level resource allocations, and advised senior leaders on human resource utilization. Angelo has been deployed to various locations in the Middle East and Africa, where he led diverse teams to achieve operational success.

Angelo holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a Marketing focus, from Park University and is currently completing his MBA through American Military University. He is a Project Management Institute certified Project Management Professional and has earned his Lean/Six Sigma Black Belt certification from the US Air Force.

Colonel Eric Lyon is an U.S. Army officer with 35 years of service.

His last assignment was as Director, Competitive Intelligence, Technology and Innovation at the United States Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, Fort Huachuca, Arizona. In this role, Colonel Lyon led the Army intelligence modernization efforts with a focus on improved data architecture underpinned by data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning technology. Colonel Lyon served three tours in Iraq as a Special Forces Officer conducting full spectrum unconventional warfare, counter-terror, and counterinsurgency operations. He also served three tours in Afghanistan conducting Intelligence Operations directed against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

In Colonel Lyon’s latest tour, he led human intelligence, counterintelligence, insider threat, data, identity, forensics and biometric intelligence operations for U.S., NATO and Afghan forces. For the Senior Service College, Colonel Lyon was selected for the Harvard National Security Fellowship where his thesis assessed catastrophic climate change as a national security threat.

Colonel Lyon holds both an MA in International Relations and a BA in Political Science & History from the University of Connecticut. Additionally, Colonel Lyon was recently accepted into the prestigious Yale Global Executive Leadership Program offered through their School of Management.


James R. Martin is a Major in the United States Army with over fourteen years of active duty experience. Deploying multiple times in support of combat operations, he has worn multiple hats in his career such as project manager, Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) operator, logistician, and several more.

Currently, James leads an IT service team in support of Army intelligence operations in the Pacific. In this role, he has championed multiple modernization efforts including machine learning implementations, low code application development, data governance, and cloud computing. Current priorities include rapid ingestion and dissemination of open source intelligence (OSINT) and developing survivable low bandwidth networks and processes.

Previously, James taught courses in international history for the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. In that role, he developed a foreign immersion experience traveling with cadets to Panama and Costa Rica providing first hand encounters with history and culture.

James is a conversational Spanish speaker and resides in Hawaii with his wife, two sons, and a Cocker Spaniel. He has a PhD in History from The University of Texas at Austin and is currently working on a postgraduate certificate in Data Science through the Naval Post Graduate School.


Sam Mayer is an Offensive Cyberoperations Operator at the 375th Cyberspace Operations Squadron, a unit that generates mission-ready offensive forces for USCYBERCOM and builds cyber tacticians for our Joint Force and nation. In addition to operator duties, Sam is a change-agent behind the adoption of DevSecOps values, principles, and practices in his community.

Prior to joining the offensive-cyber world, Sam distinguished himself as a software engineer at Kessel Run. While working on projects to revamp air tasking and airspace management, he synthesized disparate information to bypass 1.5 months of development time. This provided theater-wide communications for friendly forces and helped meet Kessel Run's goal of operational deployment 120 days after inception.

Sam is a graduate of North Dakota State University's Computer Science program and holds a M.S. in Computer Science with a Network Security focus from the Air Force Institute of Technology.


Lieutenant Commander Eric McAnelly is an active-duty Navy Information Warfare Officer with 10 years of experience in operational intelligence and expeditionary warfare. He currently serves as an aide and advisor in the United States Special Operations Command.

Prior to this assignment, Eric served as a senior briefer to Navy executive leadership in the Pentagon. Throughout his intelligence career, Eric has led small teams to develop and deliver battlespace awareness to secure the maritime domain and reduce uncertainty for Fleet and Joint Commanders. He also deployed to Africa to support a counter-improvised explosive devise task force.

Eric holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies from Columbia University and earned his MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. He currently resides in Alexandria, VA with his family.

Chief Master Sergeant Curtis McGehee is the Bioenvironmental Engineering Career Field Manager at Air Force Medical Readiness Agency in Falls Church, Virginia.

As an advisor to the Air Force (AF) Surgeon General, he directs the career field’s enlisted education, training, and talent management programs. Chief McGehee is responsible for the development and execution of AF policies related to occupational, environmental, radiation health, and organizes mission capabilities and readiness programs governing 1300 bioenvironmental engineers and 35 million dollars in resources at 75 medical treatment facilities worldwide. His team is pursuing innovation efforts that improve occupational and environmental health exposure informatics, advance the quality of sensing equipment while reducing its size and cost, and ultimately, unlocking siloed data and synchronizing this information with medical systems to improve the speed and quality of support to key stakeholders. This includes leveraging disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, drones, and wearable technology for advance sensing.

Chief McGehee has served at eleven different duty stations and four deployments filling diverse leadership roles around the globe. He holds a BA in Homeland Security and is currently pursuing a MS in Business Intelligence. He lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and three young children.


Justin is a skilled and experienced government contracting officer who has a broad knowledge in all areas of government contracts including: Construction, Services, and Commodities.

Justin has an MBA in Finance, and over 8 years of contracting experience.


Chris Pisani, M.Sc. (Systems Engineering), is a U.S. Navy commander, with a work emphasis and advanced studies in technology, security, enterprise risk, and defense acquisitions. He has led multiple organizations in cybersecurity initiatives focused on safeguarding critical infrastructure in the defense sector. This includes the Navy’s IT portfolio and Security Operation Centers, which collectively provide a sector-wide capability to prevent, detect, respond, and recover from cyberattacks against the global defense system.

He is a Technical Program Manager at the Navy’s talent management headquarters and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Naval Postgraduate School. Also, he holds certifications from the Defense Acquisitions University, National Defense University, Naval War College, Joint Forces Staff College, and Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.


Haley Spletzer is a First Lieutenant in the Air Force with three years of active-duty experience. Her background includes cradle to grave acquisitions of commodities, services, construction, GPC, and SBIR/STTR contracts. She manages multi-functional military and civilian teams for acquisition planning, negotiating, and execution of multi-million-dollar federal contracts.

Haley served as the Officer in Charge, Base Infrastructure Flight and GPC Approving Official at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. She was responsible for a $56 million portfolio and a ten-member team managing $150 million of construction and architect federal contracts. In addition to her role as Contract Manager, Haley and a select team created contracting educational videos including mission-partner training, SBIR/STTR, and training to acquisition professionals.

In her upcoming role, Haley will serve as Contracts Negotiator, F-22 Sustainment Center at Hill AFB, Utah. The center provides war-winning capabilities to the warfighter through depot maintenance, supply chain management and installation support. Additionally, Haley is an active Language Enabled Airman Program Scholar in German. She is a life-long learner eager to be exposed to new learning opportunities to sharpen her skills as an acquisition professional. Haley is a CrossFit, volleyball, and hiking enthusiast and currently resides in Ogden, Utah with her German Shepherd.


Bon Strout is a Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Specialist in the Air Force. During his eighteen years of service he has traveled around the world developing solutions for Combat Search and Rescue. While serving under Air Force Special Operations Command he stood up the command's first AFWERX Spark Cell. His passion for innovation and rescue led to him deploying as a Special Operations Command Technology Advisor, alongside leaders from the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and Lux Capital.

After returning he initiated Project Rescue Vision to modernize the search methodology by incorporating computer vision into pre-existing sensor systems. Bon has recently converted to the Air Force Reserves, where he continues to be a subject matter expert who identifies tactical level constraints. He dedicates his time to actioning problems in partnership with national labs, academia, and industry to provide innovative solutions. He currently manages a $10M portfolio of Small Business Innovation and Research initiatives focused on Rescue. Bon volunteered as a member of the Air Force Acquisition COVID-19 Task Force. During his time volunteering he was able to deploy and rapidly scale a new evaluation tool used to award $640M in contracts across three thousand and seven hundred companies.

He currently lives in Satellite Beach Florida with his wife Amie and three children. If he's not spending time with them, he's out spearfishing on the ocean or elk hunting in the mountains.

1st Lieutenant Otto Sunday is an Air Battle Manager in the Air Force’s 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron at Tinker, AFB, Oklahoma City synchronizing and directing the application of weapons, sensors, and fuel to accomplish success in battle spaces. In addition to his flying duties, he helped establish the Tinker Supercell where he serves as an innovation program manager, identifying and developing private sector and academic R&D for strategic partnerships.

His previous assignments and work include Minot, ND where managed and resolved administrative process issues mitigating multi-year deficiencies and saving $32M and a deployment to Niger, Africa supporting a $150M airfield operations and construction project.

With an undergraduate degree in Business from the University of Colorado, Otto is currently a student at the Kelley School of Business studying an MS in IT Management at Indiana University and at Oklahoma University studying an MA in International Relations with a focus in global business and economics

Pallas Advisors

Captain Dean Valentini is a USAF Experimental Flight Test Engineer and Acquisitions Officer, currently serving as Chief of Test for a rapid acquisition squadron in Denver, Colorado. He manages cradle-to-grave planning and execution for an extremely diverse portfolio of programs. Leading a small, elite team of test professionals, Dean is responsible for working directly with end users establishing requirements, acquiring, integrating, testing, and fielding urgently needed solutions for the warfighter, often in a matter of weeks from start to finish.

Dean is a USAF Test Pilot School graduate and has eight years of both Developmental and Operational Test experience. His capstone project at Test Pilot School involved the maturation and first-ever flight test of an advanced machine learning algorithm able to discern otherwise identical RF systems in an open-air environment.

Prior to joining the Air Force, he earned his B.S. in Computer Engineering and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Rhode Island. In his personal time Dean is a health and fitness fanatic, passionate about leadership and growth, enthusiastic about emergent technology, a blockchain and gaming nerd, an aspiring real estate investing mogul, and an avid outdoorsman and traveler especially when accompanied by his Australian Shepherd mix, Bulleit.


AT1 Richard Walsh is a native of Columbia Falls, Montana. Growing up in the mountains taught him to take ownership of hard problems and to do everything he could to help advance the defense of his country.

Early on, he became a Lean Six Sigma Belt and winner of the Naval Aviation Enterprise Innovator of the Year Award. At this time, he was also named by Bradley Morris Inc, one of the Top 40 under 40 in the DoD. His career accelerated when he was selected for the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell where he led development of a data analytics tool focused on Aviation Readiness. Richard's work on this tool and other projects eventually earned recognition from the Secretary of the Navy. Soon after he was named as a Johnny Mac Fellow and completed the Ignite Program at Stanford University.

Before moving the DC area, worked on a Naval curriculum for High Velocity Learning. His most recent tours include the Naval Innovation Advisory Council, the Digital Warfare Office, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, and he is currently assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting and Warfighter development.