US Army looking to invest in Austin tech scene

Mina Kim

The Army Futures Command (AFC), a division of the U.S. Army, may have moved into Austin only two months ago, but the local tech scene has already seen some benefits from having a prominent, technology-based military presence in the heart of downtown. Located in the University of Texas System’s building, the AFC is one of few organizations run by a four-star general, one of the highest rankings possible in the military. AFC is run by Gen. Mike Murray, with Col. Patrick Seiber as the Communications Director. Its main purpose is to continue making America’s army the strongest in the world by integrating up-and-coming technology into its armed forces.

“We’ve got six main types of technological innovation we’re looking for here at AFC,” Seiber said. “Those priorities are long-range precision fires, a next generation combat vehicle, air and missile defense, future vertical lift, unmanned aerial vehicles and keeping soldiers on the ground protected and ready to fight.”

AFC has been working on a few of those priorities already, by sponsoring Austin Startup Week and working with organizations such as UT’s Austin Technology Incubator. This relatively fast-paced progress is echoed by how quickly AFC came to town after other divisions of the military have utilized Austin’s booming tech scene to keep America’s forces up-to-date, according to ATI director Mitchell Jacobson.

Austin Startup Week is a five-day event celebrating startups by putting together meetings, workshops, career fairs and more, according to its website. This annual celebration, which happened just this past week, included a college Hack-a-Drone hackathon personally hosted by AFC. While most college hackathons involve teams of students trying to solve an issue by using computers, Hack-a-Drone was oriented around drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles.

“The Hack-a-Drone is an excellent example of how students’ innovations can be used to solve real world problems,” Seiber said.

There are also efforts to invest in more later-stage, investment-ready innovations, which is where the ATI comes in. ATI is the longest running technology incubator in the country. It serves as a gateway of sorts for startups looking to procure investments, and for organizations like AFC looking for startups to help develop and invest in.

“There are a lot of things we’re looking into for them — water technology, energy technology, weaponry technology, cybertechnology,” Jacobson said. “Many of the companies they want to work with have been with ATI previously, and many others have not, but we’re going to try to help in any way we can.”

AFC isn’t the only military organization that’s come to Austin to take advantage of the numerous tech innovations made here.

“We’ve also had the Defense Innovation Unit and AFWERX (the Air Force Innovation Unit) come in previously because they’re also interested in using Austin’s entrepreneurial spirit to keep America’s military up-to-date,” Jacobson said.

As Austin and UT have tried their best to accommodate the Army’s new presence here at UT, AFC is also trying to adapt to the local tech culture, according to Seiber.

“You know, it’s a different culture here,” Seiber said. “This isn’t a traditional army headquarters. We’re trying to mix it up a little and become more active in this kind of community. For example, I’m traditionally a public affairs officer, but here I’m the communications director. It’s a lot more adapted for the corporate sector.”

And as for what Austin thinks about that?

“I think it’s great,” Jacobson said. “Keep Austin weird, right?”