The Security Network: Helping Small Defense Companies Innovate and Work Together

11/17/08Follow @bvbigelow

Michael Jones has an unusual perspective on the defense industry for a guy who oversees a non-profit industry group for San Diego’s defense and homeland security companies.

While the defense industry abounds with examples of advanced technologies, “big defense companies are not doing innovation,” says Jones, chairman and CEO of The Security Network. “They’ll even tell you that they’re not really innovators. What they want to do are big projects that combine technologies. They’re essentially big systems integrators.”

So where does innovation come from in the defense industry?

In San Diego , a lot of it comes through the small companies that belong to The Security Network. The organization, formed in 2004, coordinates the interests of government and law enforcement agencies, defense companies, university laboratories and other interest groups in the San Diego region. Sometimes that involves sponsoring events, such as the one-day forum held last week on “Maritime Law Enforcement and Security.” Sometimes that involves identifying and developing new technologies sought by Gary Wang, the chief technology officer at SPAWAR, the Navy’s San Diego-based Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

SPAWAR is a major Navy acquisition arm with more than 7,500 employees that awards billions of dollars in contracts each year—primarily to advance developments in C4ISR, a military acronym for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

So how does The Security Network work with Wang, who oversees SPAWAR’s science and technology labs on Point Loma?

“The world that the DoD (Department of Defense) and defense contractors live in is very insular,” Jones says. “So (Wang) is interested in finding new technologies so the government doesn’t waste a lot of time and money trying to develop something that already exists. Because if you’re a big contractor like Lockheed Martin, you don’t care if the technology the government wants already exists somewhere else. You want the government to pay you to develop the technology yourself.”

So The Security Network serves an important role, Jones says. “We try to find innovative, off-the-shelf, dual-use technologies from around the world—they could be from Des Moines or Boston, Perth or Berlin—and we try to help those technologies get to the right market. It could be the DoD, law enforcement agencies, or commercial customers.”

Often times, The Security Network helps small companies adapt their commercial technologies for military customers.

The Security Network at first sought to promote all kinds of San Diego technologies for military use. But in recent years, Jones says SPAWAR and other military procurement agencies have advised them to focus more on four specific areas of new technology development.

Those areas consist of C4ISR, advanced robotics, information assurance, and the sensors and sensor networking technologies.

As an example, Jones cites Intellicheck Mobilisa of Port Townsend, WA, which specializes in access control and identity verification technologies. During last week’s forum on maritime law enforcement and security, the company presented information on its development of a wireless buoy network that can detect waterborne threats and alert authorities.

Another company based in the San Diego area, Micro USA, demonstrated Deep Sea View, its electro-optical system intended to look underwater for swimmers, mines, mini-subs and other submerged objects.

“It’s really interesting,” Jones adds, “because most VCs have no interest in investing in new defense technologies or companies. They think the customer base is too concentrated and the government’s purchasing cycle takes too long and is subject to too many vagaries.”

The Security Network serves a slightly different role than venture capitalists. Instead of supplying capital, it helps connect small companies with military procurement agencies and other sources of funding. While there’s not much coordination for many technologies being developed in San Diego, Jones says, “We’re a non-profit education organization that runs events in the hopes of creating opportunities for working together.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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