Alumni Panel Discuss Impact; 2021 Cohorts Now Accepting Applications
This past fall, while many of us quarantined at home, Army Colonel Crystal Hills, Department of Defense (DOD) Civilian Donna Horning, Air Force Captain Lillian Warner, and Marine Major (sel.) Sharon Rollins stepped away from their home units to work with some of the fastest growing and most innovative venture capital and startup companies in the United States. Each is a graduate of the AFVentures Fellowship, an industry immersion and upskilling program designed by Shift’s Defense Ventures Program.
Last week, these alumni joined Shift Founder & CEO Mike Slagh and AFVentures Fellowship alum Forrest Understand to discuss the Fellowship’s impact on their careers and the program’s future plans during AFWERX’s Accelerate event. AFWERX oversees the AFVentures Fellowship for the Air Force.
A Best in Class Industry Immersion Program
“This is a top-notch experience,” said Colonel Hills, an Army logistics officer currently stationed in Turkey, who spent her fellowship with the venture capital firm Structure Capital. “[The fellowship] is life-changing because of the relationships you make, the knowledge that you gain in terms of how commercial and corporate America thinks, and how that mindset impacts the DOD.”
The Defense Ventures Program is an eight-week immersion that allows fellows to broaden mindsets, develop an understanding of emerging technology, and build valuable relationships within the venture capital ecosystem that accelerate the DOD’s innovation trajectory.
“The [Defense Ventures Program] is a best-in-class industry immersion designed to help accelerate the adoption of emerging tech in the DOD,” said Slagh. “The program equips fellows with the knowledge, tools and relationships that members of the military need to accelerate their career potential while engaging with the private sector. Every aspect of the program is focused on accelerating learning and creating relationships.”
Creativity and Problem Solving in Diverse Environments
During the panel, alumni explained how the program enhanced their problem solving and technical abilities while exposing them to insights, relationships, and industry knowledge that they could take back to their military commands and reserve units. Panelists discussed takeaways like a greater confidence in their skills, a desire to work cross-departmentally to solve problems, and a deeper understanding of the tech landscape.
“Through the fellowship, I learned the importance of diversity and creativity in innovation, especially within tech and cyber,” said Major (sel.) Rollins. Rollins spent her immersion embedded with the penetration testing startup Synack.
The program also impacted the participants by helping them build valuable connections with their cohort and the private sector.
Forging Relationships that Last for a Career
“When I joined the program, there was instantly this sense of camaraderie with the cohort and sense that throughout my career, years from now, I could call them up and they would be willing to help,” said DOD Civilian Donna Horning, who spent her fellowship embedded in the cybersecurity startup Expanse. “I became initiated into this group of like-minded people who are all pushing the envelope in various ways and trying to break down silos and barriers.”
Captain Warner, who was immersed with the unicorn startup Anduril, noted how impactful it was to work with other women in tech.
“Often being a woman in military cyber feels as rare as seeing a unicorn, so it was awesome to meet other women in tech and leadership [roles],” said Captain Warner. “I embraced the power and strength that comes from working with other military women, particularly in the cyber field.
2021 Applications Now Live
In 2021, Shift will be expanding the fellowship to include nearly 200 Fellows and at least 75 private sector organizations. The AFVentures Fellowship is part of a four-year contract Shift has with AFWERX to increase the technical proficiency of the Air Force and U.S. Armed Forces.
“AFWERX has been a tremendous partner in supporting and overseeing the direction of this program to make it a success,” said Slagh. “I’m excited that we are working together to make the program bigger and better.”
Interested employees of the DOD should apply here through January 8, 2021. Accepted applicants will be notified in January 2021 and will begin their Fellowship on Feb.1.
The fellowship is open to all DOD active duty, Guard, Reserve, enlisted, officer and civilian service personnel.