3D printing in Afghanistan inspires Virginia startup

An entrepreneur who used 3D printers in Afghanistan to create solutions for soldiers in combat took his battlefield experience and started a company that now trains Marines.

Brad Halsey, founder and CEO of Building Momentum, a Virginia-based firm that provides consulting and training for Marines, says his company trains Marines and inspires them to take those lessons into combat.

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Halsey, a former Navy surface warfare officer, said the inspiration for Building Momentum came while working in mobile labs deployed to Afghanistan outfitted with 3D printers, magnetic mounted drill presses, along with engineers and scientists so soldiers with could develop prototypes in days, not years.

“We had some of the smartest people in the world … and yet people on the battlefield were getting chewed up by insurgents going to Amazon Prime or Radio Shack and getting an Arduino,” he said.

Building Momentum’s supported by MD5, a public-private partnership between the National Defense University, New York University, and a network of national research universities. Halsey and his team developed a week-long training regimen that includes instruction in additive manufacturing like 3D printing and computer-aided design.

“We developed this sort of vetting week. If you imagine… hell week for SEALs, it was the very dialed-down equivalent for nerds,” Halsey said.

It’s not power point presentations that teach people, but hands-on problem-solving, Halsey said. “I don’t think anyone believes that you learn through power point, and yet everyone does it,” he said.

The training is designed to spur veterans to be entrepreneurs and keep them safe while they’re in combat.

“I think if you’re more effective at being a soldier on the battlefield, you’re more likely to come home to your family. Then you’re more likely to have a job afterwards,” Halsey said.

Halsey chose the D.C. region to base his company because it’s chock-full of talent. Building Momentum’s offices and workshop is currently located off 1-95 south of D.C. in a Virginia business park.

“There’s a lot of smart people in this field, in this area, that are looking around and doing the same thing. They want a culture of sort of the Silicon Valley feel. They want a place where you can innovate,” Halsey told What’s Working in Washington.

Halsey said he does still get frustrated with the way the acquisition process impedes innovation inside the military.

“Innovation with tech is only half the story with the military. It’s all the story with the commercial world: if you have cool tech, you can run off and do something cool,” said Halsey. However, the Defense Department has stringent paths and regulations that can slow progress to a standstill.

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