This week Allied Command Transformation celebrates the 10th Anniversary of the Innovation Hub, one of the most prolific drivers of invention and creativity in NATO’s history.
The Innovation Hub has been a leading force behind innovation in the Alliance since its inception, with many of its greatest contributions coming to fruition in 2022. The Innovation Hub is made up of a diverse community of experts and innovators from across the Alliance who tackle NATO operational challenges and design solutions together. It is also the birthplace of countless NATO initiatives including federating national entities, leveraging open innovation, and pushing agile development.
When the Innovation Hub was formed, NATO was engaged in the largest operation in its history in Afghanistan. Operational success was not guaranteed, and the Alliance faced many dynamic and unprecedented challenges. NATO struggled with outside-the-box thinking as well as implementation of creative solutions to problems. The Alliance also struggled to partner with outside resources such as academia, business, and civil society. In 2012, with the contribution of more than 50 industry partners, the Innovation Hub pilot was launched. Shortly after, the Innovation Hub was formally created, hosting its first workshop in 2013 focused on use of social media within operational and strategic contexts.
Over the following decade, the Innovation Hub has been at the forefront of innovation and adaptation, ensuring the Alliance outpaces adversaries in areas of strategic importance. The hub has maintained its focus on identifying and solving emerging operational challenges by facilitating effective collaboration with an international community of innovators from academia, industry, and civil society.
Today the NATO innovation community has grown to more than 6,000 members from across the Alliance and beyond. The hub also stood up the NATO Innovation Network, a federation of 18 innovation centers in 10 countries, dedicated to solving the most complex problems facing the Alliance.
“Our goal is for NATO nations to adopt the IH principles, values and format as an approach to think about the future, anticipate it, and provide solutions,” said Eric Pouliquen, ACT Innovation Branch Head.
By embracing open innovation and agile methodologies, the hub has delivered assets vital to the future of the Alliance and its objectives. Since 2012 the hub has completed 45 critical projects, held 11 Innovation Challenges, and delivered more than 20 field-grade products, including tools, applications, and training.
“In the summer of 2016, I was thinking about creating an Innovation Unit and I learned about the NATO IH,” said Otto Yon, founder of the German Cyber Innovation Hub of the Bundeswehr. “I came to Norfolk, we met, and since then it has been a journey of a lot of support. It started with being introduced to other innovators in the NATO family, which was tremendously helpful.”
Over 10 years the hub has driven innovative initiatives, tools, solutions, and concepts that have helped ACT solve current and future operational challenges. It remains an indispensable problem solver and has fundamentally changed the way that NATO identifies and delivers solutions.
Although it delivers tech products, the hub is also focused on people. Most of the Hub’s bandwidth is used to listen to its community members and foster collaboration among them, always trying to get the best out of the shared efforts of its members.
“Some might think that innovation is about technology. To the NATO IH, innovation is the people,” said Serge Da Deppo, Innovation Hub Founder. “Over the last decade, our priority has been to develop quality relationships with people whom we have been solving the issues of, and with people who helped us meet NATO challenges. This is definitely the main ingredient of this successful decade.”
The network community continues to grow and outperform expectations. This delivers a constant stream of relevant innovation across the Alliance.