As many of you know from our Blog, LinkedIn, and Twitter feed, the NATO Innovation Hub’s Fall 2020 Innovation Challenge (IChall) is in full swing – with abstracts focused on “Building trust in Autonomous Systems” due November 17th and a best-solutions award ceremony planned for December 10th.

With this in mind, it seemed timely to briefly explore the genesis of the IChall and what it continues to mean to NATO, the member nations, and the hundreds of private sector, academic, and agency contributors who dedicate their valuable time and resources each year to compete.

The idea of organizing public prizes to attract a diversity of outside innovators may seem obvious today given how connected we are thanks to the Internet and mobile technologies, but this wasn’t the case for the majority of the Alliance’s now 70-plus-year history.

Fortunately, this all changed with SACT’s creation of NATO’s Innovation Hub in 2012 and its collaborative relationship with Old Dominion University (ODU) in Virginia.

Another key factor: The Innovation Hub’s participation in the U.S. Department of Defense’s first MD5 (now the National Security Innovation Network) Open Prize for Defense competition. This experience gave Innovation Hub leadership a behind-the-scenes look at the “who, what, where, when, and why” of an unclassified innovation challenge and its potential for NATO.

Ichall logo


NATO’s Innovation Hub learned a lot from MD5; they also benefited from ODU’s experience running the Lion’s Lair competition and its efforts to build engagement opportunities for entrepreneurs. With this collective mentorship, the Innovation Hub adopted two grounding principles:

  1. Ensure the IChall addresses a concrete operational challenge impacting NATO
  2. Actively engage stakeholders and potential participants outside of the military – limiting jargon and building challenge scenarios about relatable issues

And with this, “Can you solve it?” was born. The first IChall focused on hurricane disaster response and produced 50 solutions – culminating in 10 finalists and two winners. Since then, IChall has tackled Fake News in Pandemics, Optimizing Leader Development, and many other highly relevant issues. But regardless of the topic, the benefits remain shared and important:


  • Identifying solutions to important issues
  • Boosting open innovation across the Alliance
  • Improving stakeholder engagement and understanding of NATO
  • Building relationships with the global innovation community

For Nations

  • Securing support from the NATO Innovation Network and its large expert community
  • Building collaborative relationships across the Alliance
  • Applying solutions to problems impacting local citizens

For Participants

  • Easily accessible and open to anyone
  • Presenting solutions to experts through extremely simple process
  • Engaging and increasing visibility across the Alliance
  • Chance of winning the challenge, building a business, and expanding professional network

For Winners

  • Securing prizes offered by the organizational partners
  • Showcasing solutions at key NATO events
  • Opportunities to secure funding for further development and adoption


But as we’ve said before, the Innovation Hub and its IChall is only as strong as its contributors. That’s why we need you at the IChall table. With your help, we know we can efficiently tackle any problem and build a stronger Alliance and more collaborative global innovation community.

Thank you and we look forward to seeing your abstract by November 17th!

For more information on the current IChall, please visit us at:

And for more information on the previous IChall series, please visit: