Meet our latest cohort of Defense Ventures Fellows

The future of defense is public-private partnerships
The headshots of four Defense Ventures Alumni.
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 to learn more about the Defense Ventures Program and how to apply.

Meet the members of Cohort Twenty-One

The Outpost

Andrew Bilden serves as a Surface Warfare Officer in the United States Navy with five years of operational experience. As Fire Control Officer aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Daniel Inouye in Hawaii, he led 20 sailors who operate the AEGIS technical suite of radar and missile systems in support of national tasking. He briefed the Coast Guard service leader on public-private innovation, and liaised with Business Executives for National Security (BENS) as well as a Stanford Hacking for Defense (H4D) team touring the Pacific Fleet.

Previously, he served on the warship USS John Finn in San Diego, and sailed on her first deployment to the Indo-Pacific during the COVID-19 pandemic. Andrew earned a Bachelor of Science in Chinese with a Japanese minor from the United States Naval Academy. He was selected for the Schwarzman Scholarship to earn a Master’s Degree at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China. He intends to continue studying venture capital and entrepreneurship, while also getting outside there for good food and hikes!

Andrew grew up in Hong Kong for 18 years where he gained fluency in Mandarin. He enjoys challenging adventures—a favorite memory was learning to speak Spanish while immersed with the Mexican Navy.

Major Jon Chung is an Acquisitions Officer in the United States Space Force and is currently dual-hatted as the Chief of Advanced Programs and the Chief of Agile Acquisitions in the Office of Space Launch at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).  In these roles, he focuses on strategic investments and technology development for rapid and innovative solutions to expand the NRO’s orbital launch and space transportation capabilities.

Jon also stood up and runs the $700M 10-year Streamlined Launch IDIQ Contract (SLIC), which provides the NRO the ability to procure commercial launch services for the Intelligence Community.  Prior to these roles, Maj Chung was a mission manager at the NRO and led five different launch campaigns, including the NRO's first launch from foreign soil and an overseas campaign during a global pandemic.  He has also served as the Chief of Business Operations at Space Systems Command and has deployed in support of Operations: Enduring Freedom, Freedom’s Sentinel, and Inherent Resolve.  

Jon earned his B.S. in Systems Engineering Management from the United States Air Force Academy and his M.S. in Organizational Development and Leadership from The University of the Incarnate Word.

The Engine

Captain Amine Elaouad is a Lead Program Manager in the United States Air Force (USAF), overseeing and managing the execution of Advisory & Assistance Services (A&AS) projects. He directs an agile cross-functional team of military and government civilians to meet the warfighters' requirements of developing and sustaining missile warning capabilities.
His role is multifaceted entailing strategic planning, risk assessment, and resource allocation to optimize project outcomes. He has a proven track record of successfully managing contract proposals and the execution of contract options.

Amine has previously served as an Electronic Warfare Officer, amassing over 350 flight hours on the B-52H Stratofortress, including deployments supporting NATO allies, and conducted critical training for U.S. Special Operations Forces. Amine served as a Deputy Wing Datalink Manager, where he advised the COO on maintaining datalink connections with six geographically separated business units.

Before joining the USAF, he worked as an Executive Assistant to the CEO of a logistics company, where he played a pivotal role in realizing the CEO's strategic vision. He earned his Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance from Florida International University.

Chief Master Sergeant Paul M. Ellis is the 18th Medical Group Chief Enlisted Manager at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa Japan. He is the senior enlisted leader for 558 assigned personnel, who ensure the medical readiness of the Air Force’s largest combat Wing by providing safe, quality medical care to over 15,000 beneficiaries, directly promoting the mutual interests of the United States and Japan.

Paul advises the commander on enlisted matters regarding training, health, morale and effective utilization of Airmen and resources. He also advises the commander on personnel policies and programs, develops contingency planning policy, validates deployment requirements, and verifies the workforce. Paul entered the USAF in March 1999 and has had the opportunity to have been stationed in locations such as Elmendorf AFB, AK; Travis AFB, CA; Lajes Field, Azores, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, Robins AFB, GA, Kunsan AB, and Fort Sam Houston.

CMSgt Ellis has held various duties within the Diagnostic Imaging career field including Phase II Diagnostic Imaging Instructor and Course Supervisor, Non-Commissioned officer in charge of Diagnostic Imaging and Diagnostic Ultrasound, Radiology Department and Diagnostic & Therapeutics Flight Chief, AF Service Lead at METC, and AETC/USAFE Functional Manager. Paul is a 2015 graduate of Texas Tech University with a Master’s in Clinical Practice Management.

Bunker Supply

Major Ethan Fairey is an active duty Air Force officer who currently serves as the Deputy Chief of Global Force Management for the HQ USAFE-AFAFRICA MAJCOM at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where he initiates and defends requirements for the air component on behalf of two Combatant Commands, USEUCOM, and USAFRICOM.

Ethan also leads a team of talented members responsible for critical mission movements of joint forces in and out of both theaters. Ethan is an EC-130H Navigator by trade, specializing in Electric Warfare. He has leveraged his rated experience and skills to effectively communicate amongst the joint community to meet national strategic objectives. Ethan was crucial in leading planning efforts to obtain resources supporting the Ukraine Invasion, where over 3,000 forces deployed to deter adversary aggression on the Eastern Flank. Previously, Maj Fairey gained international experience as a staff officer working for the United Nations in South Sudan, where he led the management of crisis action at the Joint Operations Center.

Ethan gained both his undergraduate and MBA in Marketing from the University of New Mexico. His favorite past times include traveling to new parts of the world, golfing, and riding his motorcycle.

Bunker Supply

Julie Gehrke is an Innovation Project Manager in the United States Air Force Civil Service currently operating at the 75th Air Base Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. With a strong background in process optimization and project management, she has successfully implemented transformative strategies enhancing operational efficiency, elevating productivity and fostering cultures of innovation within organizations.

Previously serving in program coordination and executive administration positions at Aviano Air Force Base, Nellis Air Force Base and NAS Pensacola, Julie brings a unique skill set and diverse operational mission knowledge to the table. Experience managing and ensuring compliance of a wide variety of Air Force programs sharpened her ability to connect military problems to industry solutions.

Julie earned her Bachelors Degree in Legal Studies from Florida Gulf Coast University and Masters Degree in International Relations from the University of Oklahoma. She is also a Certified Project Management Professional, Certified Six Sigma Green Belt and Registered Scrum Master.


Captain Zachary Moss is currently a Company Commander in the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard).  He directs the United States Army Drill Team, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the staff that enables his parent organization, which is responsible for executing nationwide ceremonies and public outreach that builds trust in the U.S. Army.

Throughout his ten-year career, Zac has served in diverse organizations ranging from small, specialized teams to large-scale enterprises such as the 3rd Infantry Division, Special Operations Command Africa, and the United States Embassy in Tunisia. He has conducted operational deployments to Europe, the Republic of South Korea, Ghana, and Tunisia.  As a military intelligence professional, Zac has excelled at building cohesive cross-functional teams, conducting innovative data analysis and visualization solutions, and implementing organizational strategy.

Zac earned a Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs from the University of North Georgia. He is currently an Executive Master of Business Administration candidate at the University of Pennsylvania: The Wharton School. Zac is passionate about traveling with his family, skiing, mountain biking, and scuba diving.

Calvin Powell is a Military Intelligence Officer with nine years of active-duty service. Calvin has spent the entirety of his career within the 75th Ranger Regiment, the U.S. Army's premier light infantry special operations force. As a Ranger, Calvin enlisted as an Infantryman and rose to the rank of Sergeant before he was hand-selected to commission as an Intelligence Officer in 2018 through Officer Candidate School.

Calvin's current assignment focuses on strategic engagements between the military and interagency partners, where he synchronizes efforts across three geographical areas of operation. In his previous role, Calvin led a 32-person team tasked with Signals Collection and Analysis. In this role, Calvin had the opportunity to work closely with industry partners to stay up-to-date on the latest equipment and technologies.

Calvin has three combat deployments to Afghanistan and the Middle East as a Joint Special Operations Task Force member, responsible for performing politically sensitive counterterrorism operations.

Calvin lives with his wonderful wife and two kittens in Fort Moore, GA. In his free time, Calvin enjoys running marathons (with a personal best of 2:42) and coaching youth cross country.


Britney Reed joined the 96th Operations Group Chief Data Office at Eglin AFB, FL in January of 2023, after spending 8 years as a DoD Civilian at Edwards AFB, CA. Britney spent the first many years of her career as Command Support Staff for the 412th Operations Group, Global Vigilance CTF, and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Programs. In 2018, she continued her work as a Range Control Specialist for the 412th Range Squadron assessing the technical adequacy of range resources to meet data collection requirements for F-35 Flight Test. Here, she joined SparkED, the 412th Test Wing’s Innovation Team connecting her love of military family and country to her advocacy skills as a voice for Airman and spouses.

In the fall of 2020, Britney became the Wing Process Manager developing the Continuous Process Improvement and Innovation programs. In January of 2022, her passion for innovation led her to accept the position as the first-ever, Chief Innovation Officer for the 412th Test Wing managing the execution of $1.4M, (21) Wing-Level Projects valuing $6M, 24 career-broadening postions, and 5 locations. After overseeing the rapidly evolving Innovation, Hackathon and Makerspace Movements, Britney is now serving as the Deputy to the 96th Operations Group Chief Data Officer, working to modernize and shape our test infrastructure to support next-gen combat capabilities.

Britney has a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Kentucky and a J.D. in Law from Northern Kentucky University. In her free time, Britney enjoys creative writing, karaoke jams, board games, building things with her husband and 2 small children and good conversations with friends and family.

Hermes Robotics

TSgt Jordan Renfrow is the Tactical Air Control Party Command and Control Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge at 7th Air Support Operations Squadron, Fort Bliss, Tx.

Jordan is one of two Senior Air Technicians in the Air Support Operations Center and leads a crew of 7 personnel as a rapidly deployable Tactical Command and Control entity in support of Joint Forces Commander objectives.

He is also a Joint Terminal Attack Controller Instructor, the Unit Link-16 Manager, the Digitally Aided Close Air Support trainer, and heads the unit’s innovation program.

Marque Ventures

Captain Jessica Ringer is an Intelligence Officer in the United States Marine Corps, currently serving as a Strategic Planner at the Marine Forces Pacific Headquarters at Camp Smith, Hawaii. She works with a broad range of subject matter experts to analyze and develop future military plans in the Indo-Pacific.

Previously, she was assigned to an aviation unit in Japan where she led an intelligence section and deployed on naval vessels in the South and East China Seas. As a graduate of the Marine Corps’ Weapons and Tactics Instructors Course, Jessica developed a training curriculum to teach over 80 pilots and aircrew about foreign aircraft and missile employment as well as other emerging military technology in Asia. As a civilian, Jessica worked in Business Development at a regional construction firm where she implemented software that streamlined workflows and increased productivity within the sector.

Jessica has been selected as a Schwarzman Scholar and will move to Beijing, China this fall to begin a master’s degree in Global Affairs at Tsinghua University. Jessica earned her Bachelor of Science in Chinese from the United States Naval Academy and holds an MBA from the University of Maryland Global Campus.


Jake Rinker is currently the Chief of Weapons and Tactics for the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron at Fort Campbell where he trains and manages over 100 Air Force Special Warfare Operators. He also leads his squadron’s innovation program, driving constant tactics, techniques and procedure evolution and equipment procurement.

Previously, he was the Chief of Weapons and Tactics for Central Command, where he was the focal point for all real world, training and test missions or exercises across 21 nations. Jake has vast exposure in team building and problem solving from multiple joint and multinational deployments supporting conventional, special operations and partner forces.  

Jake graduated from the United States Air Force Weapons School in 2020, and he is motivated to use that experience and credentials to improve programs and innovation within the Air Force at large.

Marque Ventures

Captain Clay Sammis is the senior intelligence officer for the 3d United States Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) in Washington, D.C. In this role he coordinates with external intelligence and security agencies to assess and mitigate the risk of threats to official government ceremonies, including those with the President.

Prior to this, Clay served as the commander for two of the Army’s most prominent platoons: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the United States Army Drill Team. Throughout his decade of experience in the Army, Clay has deployed to multiple locations including Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Romania, and Poland where he served as both an infantry officer and intelligence analyst. Throughout these deployments, Clay identified and capitalized on untapped opportunities by creating innovative solutions to solve complex problems.

Clay earned his bachelor’s degree in Physiology from the University of Iowa. He also holds a master’s degree in Intelligence Studies from American Military University.

Commander Tom Schmitz is a Navy Pilot and Foreign Area Officer currently serving as the Deputy Chief of International Partnerships for U.S. Cyber Command.  He leads the Command's strategic outreach, engagement, and cooperation to strengthen global cybersecurity, promote the responsible use of cyberspace, and develop shared capabilities with international partners.

In addition to his expertise in international cyber relations, Tom has a broad range of experience leading multinational teams across the globe in a variety of missions for over 17 years.  He has planned and led counter-piracy exercises in Africa, delivered humanitarian aid and responded to volcanic eruptions in Central America, and commanded aircraft that control intercontinental missiles.  He has executed multimillion dollar budgets and helped grow large organizations.

Tom holds a B.S. in Systems Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy, an M.S. in Systems Engineering Analysis from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, an M.S. in Management and Strategy and Cybersecurity from American University, and a Specialization in Naval Operations from the Argentine Naval War College.  In his free time, Tom likes to travel, hike, and coach his children's sports teams.

Shield Capital

Major Clay Shaner is an F-35 fighter pilot serving in the Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing.  He has accumulated approximately 2,000 hours flying both the F-16 and F-35, supporting combat operations and theatre security in Europe, the Western Pacific and Middle East.

Currently serving as the Program Manager and Chief of Wing Weapons and Tactics, Clay balances his professional time between building, teaching and leading warriors while integrating and evolving his organization into a more lethal national defense enterprise.  A 2020 graduate of the US Air Force Weapons School, he is focused on opportunities to innovate multi-domain kill chains and dominate electromagnetic spectrum operations.

Prior to pursuing military service and his passion for aviation, Clay served over four years as an Analyst and Associate in investment banking and capital markets at Morgan Stanley’s headquarters in New York.  There he focused on leveraged finance, serving financial sponsors as well as strategic corporate clients throughout the technology, media, and telecom sectors.

Clay graduated from Washington & Lee University with a B.S. in Business Administration in 2004, and is pursuing a Master of Military Operational Art and Science.


Brian Strickler is a Small Business Professional at Army Futures Command in Austin, TX. In this role, he promotes the interests of small businesses within the Army's procurement and contracting process by providing guidance, outreach, and education to small businesses across industries. Brian works to ensure the Army and its soldiers remain at the forefront of technological innovation and warfighting ability through both traditional and non-traditional partnerships.

Prior to joining Army Futures Command, Brian earned an MBA from the University of Virginia, worked in the private sector as a strategy consultant, and served as a Navy Intelligence Officer. In his free time, Brian enjoys playing the electric guitar, open water swimming, and lifelong learning.

Diem Vo is a leader with extensive professional experience in operations, aerospace & defense, business intelligence, strategic communications, and national security. He has served in various roles as operations leader, strategist, relationship/engagement manager, and advisor to senior government officials, Fortune 100 leaders, and middle market executives. Diem also volunteers as mentor and instructor with alumni and veteran service organizations.

Diem holds an MBA from Cornell University, an MA in International Affairs from Georgetown University, and an AB from the University of Chicago. He is a former Joint Special Operations Command officer and a Central Intelligence Agency Directorate of Operations Officer.

For his wartime service, he was awarded the Silver Star by the US Army and several meritorious awards for his clandestine service.

Merlin Labs

Captain Kaitlin Zito is an Air Force Officer and Air Force Special Operations Command Navigator assigned as the rated Air Liaison Officer and Special Warfare Mission Support Flight Commander attached to the Tactical Air Control Party unit stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, AK.  

She directly leads a broad team of various specialty codes that provide logistical combat training and support, in addition to educating and advising Company Grade staff on air employment in local training, Joint exercises, and combat contingency operations. She has over 8 years of Air Force flying experience, specializing in Close Air Support and air-to-ground weapons engagement.

Prior to her current assignment, Kaitlin served as an Instructor Combat Systems Officer on AC-130s in Florida where she oversaw the training and development of over 200 students.

Captain Zito earned her commission via ROTC through Colorado State University, where she also earned her BS in Political Science with a focus on international relations and the Chinese language. She also holds a Steering Complex Problems certificate through Cambridge University’s Judge Business School.