757 Accelerate: Contributing to the Evolving Ecosystem for Innovation


By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake

During out visit to Norfolk in March 2021, we learned that Second Fleet was working a direct relationship with the Navy’s Mid-Atlantic Tech Bridge. The Mid-Atlantic Tech Bridge is described as follows: “The Mid-Atlantic Tech Bridge (MATB) is the first of what we believe will be many Tech Bridges to formally tie the Operational Navy to the Science and Technology capabilities for the Navy and Marine Corps.

“Commander 2nd Fleet, in partnership with the Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic Hampton Roads Detachment, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division Damneck Activity and Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division Norfolk Detachment, will connect warfighters with those who can provide agile technology solutions.

“Leveraging a connection to a robust ecosystem spanning well beyond the Commonwealth of Virginia, MATB will facilitate innovative technology solutions of interest to the region and the DoN. In the coming months, MATB will establish an off-base facility space for collaborative events; this will allow a low-barrier connection with Dept of the Navy people.”

Clearly, modernization of a military force can be carried out for three reasons;

  • To gain some new capabilities not previously available;
  • To add new components which provide for enhanced or more reliable operation of existing equipment-software upgradeable weapons and platforms;
  • Simply replace worn out equipment that is no longer economical to operate or militarily useful.

Linking a Tech Bridge operating philosophy with an operational fleet has tremendous potential for increasing the value of any technology modernization initiative by looking at the final output which is the condition of the operational inventory at a given point in time. This is a very significant change in how innovative technology initiatives can be validated much quicker by the operators who will use it in fleet operations.

While visiting with CDR Bobby Hanvey, Mid-Atlantic Tech Bridge Director, we had the chance to tour where they were planning to establish their new headquarters. The building was being designed to house a number of small technology companies looking to drive innovation in the region and beyond. And we met as well with their regional partner for the Mid-Atlantic Tech Bridge, namely, 757 Accelerate.  757 Accelerate a firm with a small innovation hub in the new building will share office space with Mid-Tech Bridge, as well as coordinate regional Tech Bridge outreach, scouting, and SBIR education events.

There is a partnership in place between the two organizations. Their relationship can shape new ways to innovate with the Tech Bridge able to be in a better position to support Second Fleet innovation,

And it Is at this level of driving ecosystem innovation where 757 Accelerate can be found. According to their website: “757 Accelerate is a selective startup accelerator program providing
founders with capital, connections, and customers.”

Their 2019 impact report can be read at the end of this article, but two opening comments in that report provide a good insight into the effort.

According to Monique Adams, 757 Accelerate Board Chair:

“757 Accelerate is part of a community of interconnected, inclusive, and impactful entrepreneurial resources serving founders, investors, and the regional economy. With eleven companies accelerated, over 680 hours of mentorship, and nearly 50 jobs created, 757 Accelerate has made an incredible impact in just two short years. 757 Accelerate was born out of a collaboration between six cities, four universities, and the leadership of TowneBank. Ferguson Ventures has since joined the coalition, underscoring the belief that we are better together.

“We continue to focus on building an inclusive ecosystem that supports the growth of all founders, including women, people of color, and military vets. We are proud that well over half of 757 Accelerate’s companies have underrepresented founders on their management teams, further illustrating that we drive greater impacts when we leverage the power of the collective.”

According to Evans McMillon, executive director of 757 Accelerate:

“The last two years has been an amazing voyage filled with collaboration and community creation. 757 Accelerate alumni have helped us exceed national averages for accelerators and they are poised to continue their growth. We feel incredibly lucky to have played a part in their entrepreneurial journey. By remaining true to our commitment to put entrepreneurs first and give before we get, we have attracted committed mentors, active investors, and strong community partners to drive real impact for our founders and the regional economy.”

We met with Evans McMillon during our tour of the new building within which the organization has office space and then followed that up with a telephone interview after we had returned to Northern Virginia. According to the 757 Accelerate website: “Evans is passionate about solving problems through innovation and collaboration. As an attorney, she helped growing businesses rethink their options and knock down the hurdles in their path towards growth. Most of Evans’ opportunities materialized because she was willing to say “yes” and then get to work. Prior to joining 757 Accelerate, Evans worked as an attorney counseling big and small companies at all stages of growth from entity formation through IPO.  She has practiced in law firms in Seattle and Virginia Beach, as well as serving as corporate counsel to ADS, Inc. Evans attended Dartmouth College and Duke University School of Law.”

In our discussion with McMillon, she emphasized that 757 Accelerate works with startups at all stages but the sweet spot is those who have an early but operational product or prototype and need help validating product-market fit, gaining traction, and raising the capital needed to scale. Their three-month program “wraps founders in key resources” and mentor founders to help them accelerate their growth and attract investors.

757 Accelerate is only three years old, but their focus on being founder-focused, providing rigorous and impactful programming, and connecting startups to mentors, investors, and customers helps them reach critical mass, enter the market, attract private capital and scale, enhancing their chances for success.

As McMillon put it: “We are building an ecosystem that founders would want to be part of.”

About the U.S. Navy, they have struggle with how to talk to companies at this stage of evolution, and many of these companies are at the cutting edge of generating new technologies. This means the Navy Tech Bridge leadership would like to be able to enter this space; 757 Accelerate makes a good partner to facilitate the process of translating Navy needs into early entrepreneurial language.

The challenge can be put this way: How does one shape an ecosystem on the Navy side to find early innovative technology and apply it to the fleet? What is the relationship between cutting edge technologies and the problems which the Navy needs to solve?

If indeed the Tech Bridge approach can embrace working with an innovative ecosystem shaping group like 757 Accelerate, they are well on their way to answering these questions.

The challenge is to source problems and find a way to get beyond engineering thinking and rely on design thinking.

As McMillon put it: “Connecting to design thinking is a major challenge for the Navy. For example, the design thinking behind the I-Pad was the need to make computing more mobile. And when you open the design aperture to examining all the various ways in which one might make computing more mobile, the tablet emerged as a leading answer. Apple did not initially set out to build a tablet; it was around how to design mobile computing, and the iPad was the best solution produced. It is about problem sourcing, rather than engineering driven design of an already envisaged product.”

This is a very good example of the ecosystem in which the Navy will need to find new solutions, beyond the build process for major weapon systems. For example, we have seen with regard to C2F that VADM Lewis has focused central attention on how to do distributed C2 for an integratable fleet. He has had his team leverage what is already available to provide for such capabilities.

But if one were to follow McMillon’s notion of design thinking versus engineering thinking, the question is: How might be able to achieve more effective distributed C2? What are all the possible ways? And what are the solutions which might be within reach in the commercial, security or military space?

In short, as the Navy pursues Tech Bridges, the challenge will be to break the engineering design/acquisition models and to incorporate a design thinking approach. And clearly, an organization like 757 Accelerate can help in shaping a new approach and connecting the Navy to new ecosystem paradigms.