Three tips for defence tech startups from Paul Clayton and Serhii Koshman

Recently, Paul Clayton, an ex-commander of the UK element of NATO, and Serhii Koshman, a Head of International Partnerships and Cooperation Brave1, visited Lift99, an international startup-hub based in Kyiv, and shared their opinions about how defence tech startups should prepare for successful growth and realization in the current political and economic environment, considering their qualification and experience.

Ragnar Sass, Lift99 founder, Paul Clayton, and Serhii Koshman. Photo provided by the author

For now, the defence tech sector includes the bulk of most prospective industries in the hi-tech market, and the following three tips from accomplishment experts will help you build your defence tech startup more effectively.

As a bonus, Paul Clayton and Serhii Koshman kindly included in their speech opinions about the possibility of new conflicts emerging in the foreseeable future.

1. War is about technology

At the start of the meeting, Paul did an exhaustive summary: “War is a way for constant innovation”, and this principle has remained unchanged since the ancient times. In the distant past, weapons of war, intelligence instruments, and medicine have been continuously improved. Modern warfare has a similar nature: for a successful defense or offensive operation, you have to rapidly adapt, modernize, and develop new means of combat.

In the XXI century, the list of such technologies, especially in progressive countries, usually involves core digital industries like Machine Learning, Data Science, and the AI industry as a whole. Technically, modern algorithms which allow the processing and management of large amounts of data are a vital instrument for every current intelligence service and, perhaps, no less important than the spy network. Such software makes it possible to predict enemy’s potential steps due to highly accurate analysis of satellite photos, contemporary decryption systems, etc.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are at the high technologies’ “forefront” on the battlefield. They are being used more and more actively by Ukrainian forces and have produced noteworthy successes in recent months. We could observe dozens of notable developments and applications of such machines: well-known Bayraktar, tens of different kamikaze drone variations from Ukrainian enterprises, robot SPOT by BostonDynamics, and other autonomous instruments that can help to demine the territory without involving human resources.

2. Find new connections and allies

To ensure the correct operation of hi-tech software, we need high-quality hardware: advanced chips, semiconductors, rare resources, etc. In the context of Ukraine, we can observe some lack of such components. In order to build advanced production, you need to cooperate with Western companies, especially with large-scale industry representatives. These corporations usually acquire prospective startups and provide them with the required resources, funds, and specialists.

By the way, the latter, STEM-educated people, are no less important than hardware. Engineers, scientists, and mathematics are also vital parts of successful growth for every defense tech startup. They will provide idea generation, modernization, and implementation of new technologies. As Paul Clayton assumed, there is no lack of such people in Ukraine.

The war allows to establish new connections more easily because the defense industry in most countries is in the growth stage, and the effectiveness of your communication mainly depends on your activity and initiative.

3. VCs do not know about defense tech

Not every investor can and should know the difference between your UAV or an advanced computer-vision system for drones and the same product from your competitor. Thus, you should have an expert on your team with appropriate qualifications and sufficient experience to explain to VCs why your work deserves attention and funds.

Also, the experts mentioned a few countries with the most “friendly” defense tech market, open to new ideas: Estonia, Great Britain, and the USA.

The future of war

Paul Clayton, a NATO ex-commander, and Serhii Coshman, a def-tech industry representative, are, logically, competent in questions connected to war as a whole, so we definitely should not neglect their opinions about one of hottest debated questions of last year: will China invades Taiwan?

This conflict can directly provoke some kind of new global war, however, Paul Clayton expressed doubts that China will take this step. Firstly, because these actions will collapse China’s economy in a few months, and in this case, the invasion ​​is tantamount to shooting at your own head.

Serhii Coshman, in his turn, noted that military logic is not applicable to countries like Russia and China. These autocracies with a clear shift toward dictatorship are irrational in their nature and more depending on an individual’s (or groups of individuals’) personal whim rather than a critical assessment of economic and military capabilities. Therefore, you definitely should recognize different kinds of political, sociological, and other forecasts as the ultimate truth in the case of these countries.

As we all remember, a wide range of respected experts, before Russian global invasion in Ukraine, assured that such war was impossible: Russia would collapse in a few months, and Putin would probably never take such a suicidal step.

Author: Serhii Zhelieznikov