STARTUPS Traversing the Valley of Death: A DISCUSSION WITH FOUNDERS O 18 n the perilous journey from prototype to successful application, new technologies must successfully navigate a risk-filled valley of death. It’s there that many once-promising innovations are forever discarded. Numerous industry studies report that around nine out of ten technology startups eventually fail. Startups focused on the government space may face this all-too-common fate when they lack access to government clients, an understanding of agencies’ key problem sets, or direction from established partners to apply the right technology to the right problem at the right time. And the path to government adoption involves a complex acquisition process that is among the last, most daunting pieces of terrain to cross. Reaching the Other Side, Unscathed The federal government has an important, proactive role to play in cultivating a technology ecosystem where innovation is able to take root—and there are new approaches to consider around funding and contracting that are critical for creating the best environment for emerging technologies to thrive. But in the process of helping innovative startups defy the odds and advance their innovations through and beyond the valley of death, it is valuable for government and industry leaders to understand the lived experiences of founders today. We recently spoke with the co-founders of one such startup, Latent AI, to get their first-hand perspectives on this journey. Latent AI was founded in 2018, and the company’s tinyML technologies help organizations rapidly run complex algorithms in low-power environments. This major breakthrough in artificial intelligence (AI) engineering creates a new level of decision advantage possible for warfighters and analysts operating in demanding environments at the tactical edge. Here’s what we learned from Jags Kandasamy (the company’s chief executive officer) and Sek Chai (the company’s chief technology officer) about what it takes to turn a smart idea into a powerful technology that goes on to transform real-world missions.