Drew Hendricks, a Regional Engagement Principal at the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), has embarked on a dynamic career journey that spans military service, academia, entrepreneurship, and technology. His unique blend of experiences has equipped him with a holistic perspective on the complex landscape of defense innovation and entrepreneurship growth.

Hendricks’ path began when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps after high school. Over his 14-year military career, he undertook diverse roles, from combat correspondent to marketing director for the recruiting command. Transitioning from active duty, Hendricks pursued higher education in advertising at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to collaborate with various business ventures, and he later earned an MBA from the University of Southern California.

At NSIN, a program operating with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Hendricks fosters connections between academia, venture companies, and the Department of Defense (DoD). One of NSIN’s flagship programs is the Venture portfolio, which develops and executes programs and services to facilitate access to emerging technology as it engages the talents of fast-moving innovators and non-traditional problem-solvers. The Venture Portfolio works directly with dual-use early-stage ventures emerging from both the academic and venture communities with solutions addressing Department of Defense problems.

“NSIN’s whole goal is to increase the speed of innovation and technological development within current and existing industries for national security,” said Hendricks. “Right now, locked up in someone’s brain somewhere, maybe even in Oklahoma, is a solution we need. But what happens is the DoD doesn’t go around asking, ‘What do you have? Show us what you got.'”

Hendricks emphasized businesses should rely on more than just DoD contracts for sustainability. Hendricks said companies thrive by catering to broader markets, which can ultimately enhance their stability and innovation. NSIN aims to work with small companies early on and encourage them to maintain versatility rather than being exclusively dependent on defense contracts. This approach aligns with the organization’s preference for engaging with companies poised for success in multiple sectors.

“Oklahoma has a unique blend of capabilities that can address complex problems,” Hendricks said. “We want the DoD to know we’re here and ready to contribute. I want to help you, but I want to help you if you do something to solve a problem.”

NSIN Challenges hosts competitive prize competitions on a specific topic or technology vertical. The open challenges allow early to mid-stage companies, even if they do not have SAM numbers, to pitch solutions to potential U.S. Department of Defense mission partners and industry subject matter experts for evaluation. 

“When I tell people it’s not that you need to be a solve everything on that list telling you if you have that capability, you should apply,” said Hendricks. “What ends up happening is you apply to the mass challenge, and then your venture gets accepted based on some of its stuff, you work with that DoD mission partner and other mission partners to figure out whether or not you have a product market fit. And then you pitch to that group.”

Drew Hendricks will speak more about the National Security Innovation Network to Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch members on Wednesday, September 13, 2023. The event will be held at Metro Tech Spring Lake Campus in Oklahoma City from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and will be open to members and guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM.