Hacking 4 Defense (H4D)

H4D at JMU

Hacking 4 Defense is an education initiative that applies design thinking and the the Lean Startup model to solve real and complex problems in the defense and intelligence communities. To do this, interdisciplinary student teams interview dozens of users and experts every week and constantly prototype solutions. Based at Stanford University, the H4D program is currently being tested by five schools across the U.S., including Georgia Tech and Georgetown University. James Madison University is one of those five schools and the only one exclusively offering the class to undergraduate students.

The project has received nationwide media attention, and JMU’s class has garnered significant praise for the work accomplished by its undergraduate students. Faculty and students participating in JMU’s H4D class include professors and students from engineering, nursing, biology, business, and writing studies.

Class Overview

Hacking for Defense™ (H4D) is designed to provide students the opportunity to work with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) to better address the nation’s emerging threats and security challenges. (See the background here.) Unlike current practices in the DoD/IC that can stall, and in some cases thwart rapid innovation, this course provides a platform for developing prototypes that match DOD/IC users’ needs in weeks. Agencies or commands in the DoD/IC, or investors, may provide follow-on funding to student teams for further refinement and development of solution prototypes.

In most Lean Startup classes, student teams come with a vision of a product or service they’d like to build. In this H4D class, student teams may either select from an existing set of problems provided by the DoD/IC community or introduce their own ideas for DoD/IC problems that need to be solved. Although teams pick a problem to solve, H4D is not a product incubator for a specific technology solution. Instead, it provides teams with a deeper understanding of selected problems and the host of potential technological solutions that might be arrayed against them. Using the Lean LaunchPad Methodology, the class focuses teams to achieve the following:

  1. Profoundly understand the problems/needs of government customers
  2. Rapidly iterate technology solutions while searching for product-market fit
  3. Understand all the stakeholders, deployment issues, costs, resources, and ultimate mission value
  4. Deliver minimum viable products that match customer needs in an extremely short time
  5. Produce a repeatable model that can be used to launch other potential technology solutions.

Class Websites

Each class is tasked with building a website to publish their research and facilitate student research networks across different institutions. The students tell the story about their project and what they’re learning throughout the course. Writing a public blog for a general audience tests the rigor of their thinking and encourages students to work as a team to best describe their research. It also provides them with a valuable public archive of their work and most of our students use the blogs as a demonstration of their experience for their professional portfolios.

Faculty & Staff

John Guo

John Guo

Computer Information Systems- College of Business

Erica Lewis

Erica Lewis

Nursing- College of Health and Human Services

Keith Holland

Keith Holland

Engineering- College of Integrated Science and Engineering

Sean McCarthy

Sean McCarthy

Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication- College of Arts and Letters

Bernd Kaussler

Bernd Kaussler

Political Science- College of Arts and Letters

Nick Swayne

Nick Swayne

Faculty Coordinator

swaynedd@jmu.edu
540-568-6093

James Barnes

James Barnes

X-Lab Staff

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Catie Willett

TA

2017 Team Projects