I attended and spoke at the Global Security Challenge Conference today in London, England, an event that was organized by a group of London Business School students over the past year centered around a business plan contest for promising homeland security start-ups. It was an excellent conference, featuring a diverse and interesting group of speakers and involving some top-notch companies in the business plan competition. I’m pretty jaded by all of the homeland security-related business pitches that I’ve heard over the past 4+ years, but the quality of these plans was excellent:
Ingenia Technology was the ultimate winner of the competition, for what looks to be a very interesting technology for document and asset authentication based upon the natural physical signatures of items.
The speakers at the conference were also very informative. A number of them invoked the Chatham House rules, so I can’t go into detail on the day’s remarks, but I can note that I was surprised by the extent to which many of the Europeans viewed the U.S. homeland security market as ideal in its openness and flexibility in comparison with what they experience in the European Union. And I learned details about two European technology development programs that I hadn’t previously known much about: the European Security Research Programme and NATO’s Defence against Terrorism program.
The most valuable takeaway from the event for me was witnessing the practical results that a small cohort of MBA students could achieve in putting together an event like this. The homeland security community has perhaps fallen for the fallacy of bigness over the past few years, thinking that we need Marshall Plan-like endeavors to solve our critical challenges. Yes, in some sectors we do need large projects akin to the traditional DOD system integrator model, but other elements of the homeland security R&D system require speed, agility, and openness as key parameters rather than size and scale. This conference demonstrated how you can catalyze the innovation cycle by bringing together technologists and business leaders and cut through many of the bureaucratic hurdles that hinder more effective R&D in the security arena. The students who started this event have created an excellent forum, which hopefully will continue in the years ahead.
ps. A nice shot of Tower Bridge (not London Bridge, as MTV might have led one recently to believe) from the conference site: