Gearing Up for Waterfront Athena 8

By: LTJG Tom Baker


We are excited to extend an invitation to Waterfront ATHENA 8 on Friday, August 28th at the Societe Brewing Tasting Room from 1200-1500!

Before I started writing this announcement, I read through the blog posts below from LCDR Drew Barker and ENS Daniel Stefanus. My takeaway in short: We are witnessing some very exciting and inspirational times!

Growth and transformation within ATHENA is accelerating. We are breaking new ground in the amount of support and interest received from our surrounding military and civilian communities. ATHENA 8 promises a showing of that growth and change.

The mighty BENFOLD, our original grassroots platform for The ATHENA Project, is preparing for a homeport shift to Yokosuka, Japan in early September. We will carry over a team of inspired hearts and minds, anxious to launch ATHENA Far East this fall. And certainly, in that effort we are thrilled to connect with anyone who might be inspired by the Project and would like to get involved – message us if you’re interested!

The San Diego team we depart from is nothing short of awesome! At ATHENA 8, BENFOLD will “pass the torch” to leaders from LCSRON 1 and USS ANCHORAGE.

As always, the stage is 100% open to any innovators in the San Diego area, regardless of community affiliation (or service affiliation for that matter, as we are thrilled to have our Marine Corps brethren geared to participate in ATHENA 8!). If you have a big idea that you want to share with our open and accepting network, get a hold of us and come on down to the event to share your idea with kindred spirits!


The Athena Project returning to the awesome space that our friends at Societe Brewing Company have built on August 28th!

We hope you can share these exciting changes with us at Waterfront ATHENA 8. See you at Societe on August 28th!


Tom Baker is the First Lieutenant onboard the Ballistic Missile Defense Guided Missile Destroyer, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is a graduate of Oregon State University in Entrepreneurship.

Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail!

Now Introducing athenaLINK!

By: LCDR Drew Barker


The most effective incubators tie burgeoning entrepreneurs with great mentors and guides to help them develop their business concepts, expand their network, and provide encouragement. Fortunately, the military has a number of senior level leaders who are very supportive of Service Members who are willing to take risks to improve the service they love.

We feel that if someone has the intellectual courage to develop an idea, polish a pitch, stand in the scrutiny of peers, superiors, junior personnel, as well as community members, and then continue to champion an idea then they deserve the opportunity to connect with someone who could serve as a mentor and an accelerator for the development of their idea.

And that, in essence, is what athenaLINK is all about! But, we need your help.

We’re looking for senior leaders in the military, government organizations and laboratories, University Affiliated Research Centers, industry and beyond. We need leaders who have experience in the field to help our junior presenters refine their big ideas as they work to find paths to turn the concepts into reality!

An incubative sponsor could be thought of as an egg warmer – helping keep an idea hot until it hatches. Or, since we occasionally quip that ATHENA is like Shark Tank meets TED Talks, the perfect leader to be involved would essentially be one of the Sharks in the Shark Tank – one of the seasoned leaders who can navigate the murky waters of military bureaucracy, avoid the shoals, achieve results and who is hungry to sink their teeth into an idea that will pay dividends for the military.

How will athenaLINK be managed? With the two words that describe the essence of the ATHENA undertaking – organically and simply. We need to tie incubative sponsors to the idea champions – Sailors who’ve bravely and passionately pitched their idea – and provide a simple agreement outlined below:

Incubative sponsors agree that for a specific idea champion they will provide:

  • 3-6 months service as an active coach, guide, advisor, and encouraging supporter to help get the idea off the ground.
  • Focused instruction and assistance in developing a personal network to advance the idea.
  • Probing questions and intentional critical thinking aimed at resolving obstacles and potential conflicts.
  • A personal commitment to help the willing achieve measurable results.

Meanwhile idea champions agree to:

  • Continue in the pursuit of implanting their idea with their greatest effort, seeking measurable improvements.
  • Take the initiative in communicating with their sponsor on a regular basis.
  • Accept feedback and criticism with an open mind and willingness to challenge their own assumptions.
It takes a team to grow an idea

It takes a team to grow an idea

Now to make the connections happen. Whether as a seasoned leader and agent of positive change you consider yourself a sponsor, egg-warmer, or shark, take a look at the list of ideas in the concept catalog and see if one matches an area of interest for you and consider sponsoring that person. Email us here: and we will connect you! If you are an idea champion and are looking for an incubative sponsor, feel free to reach back to us or reach out to someone you would like to connect with and give them a little explanation of what this program is about, share the points of agreement mentioned above, and ask them to join you in making a positive difference. Lastly keep us informed of your progress so we can share it with everyone to inspire others to step out in courage.

Finally, as we roll out this new program here is a quick refresher on a couple of our other programs.

athenaTHINK: Learn methods of design thinking, systems thinking, creativity and more generally critical thinking through a workshop aimed at conjuring new ideas and approaches to pertinent problems and strategies.

athenaSPEARs: Bring the network together to solve a specific problem, leveraging talent in a hack-a-thon environment and exercising skills developed through athenaTHINK.

Of course, if you’re interested in getting involved in either of those initiatives, don’t hesitate to shoot us a note!

athenaLINK is a great opportunity to get involved with the ATHENA Network and we’d love to hear from you! We’re excited for the future of ATHENA and hope you join us as we grow the wave of creativity in the fleet!


LCDR Drew Barker is an E-6B pilot returning to the TACAMO community as a member of the VQ-4 Shadows. 

Get involved with Athena in San Diego at Societe Brewing Company on August 28th and in the Norfolk area this fall! Stay tuned for more grassroots projects!

Have questions or interest in hosting an event? Connect with us on Facebook:, follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy, or e-mail us at!

A New Gateway, A Growing Team, The Same Fire

By: LCDR Drew Barker


A quick introduction for those who don’t know me. I’m LCDR Drew Barker and was one of the original team members from ATHENA Northwest.

As Dave Nobles, ATHENA’s founder, transitions to an advisory role in his civilian job at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, I’m excited to serve the team as a new gateway – here to answer questions, support the ATHENA events growing across our services, and seek new ways to support deck-plate ideas. I’m particularly stoked about working with the ATHENA team because it has made a major impact in my decision to stay Navy – we are having a major impact and we are well set up to do even better.

Let me ask a simple question: What would your dream team would look like and what would it accomplish?

Some thrive on sports victories; others seek popularity, fame, or fortune; still others would rather sit on the couch and watch it all happen. Then there are a few that have a fire in their bones to make a positive difference in the world around them. My hat is off to Dave and the team surrounding ATHENA, who with that fire and some courageous creativity started a project to unite those of us who also kindle a passion for improvement deep in our bones.

Like separate coals brought together, we’ve been able to fuel one another and share that fire with others to make the Navy and the DoD better organizations.   This self-assembled team, inspired by the efforts and outreach of a few, is a dream team when it comes to grassroots innovation. Without policy directives or procedures, this team continues to find a way to refine ideas and bring them into reality – who wouldn’t want to be part of this undertaking and play a role in the future of innovation and rapid adaptability in our Services?

The creative fire is spreading throughout the fleet!

The creative fire is spreading throughout the fleet!

Through ATHENA we are building a more agile DoD, influencing the core of our culture with hopes that our Armed Services will be able to quickly counter developing security risks in an increasingly unpredictable world. By exercising innovation through network based support that is available to any level of our organization, I believe we can influence the military culture to explore positive disruptions and remain maximally effective. Our success will hang on formidable moral courage, engaged critical thinking, and the inclusion of the wide breadth of perspectives contained in the military, industry, education, and government.

Recently ATHENA has seen some major growth in the team. The torch for San Diego events is passing to a new group of leaders and innovators. The first ATHENA Afloat will soon be hosted on the USS ANCHORAGE. Some of the original San Diego cohort are making plans to light the fire in Japan, igniting ATHENA Far East in late fall. New leaders are emerging in Hawaii, looking to add to the growing “ring of fire.” ATHENA East in Norfolk is warming up for their second event, now sponsored by the innovators in the Hampton Roads Surface Navy Association. Also watch out for the group lighting off in the Jacksonville / Mayport area – we are excited to see the development of ATHENA Southeast this fall!  The ATHENA Project recently supported the logistics and design of an innovation competition initiated by members of the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum at Dyess AFB, sparking innovation in the Air Force. So the excitement and energy seem to grow exponentially.

There are good reasons for our success so far, and they are founded in the moral fabric that ties together elements of our network. Here are four threads I find very important.

Weaving a network throughout the Navy and the Department of Defense.

Weaving a network throughout the Navy and the Department of Defense.

Human construction – the community focuses on building people – leaders / innovators / problem solvers / warriors that are connected and educated with tools for success. We recognize value apart from rank or position and treat ideas based on merit alone. We offer hope that voices will be heard and valued.

Human connections – trusting and diverse relationships are central to the network that supports the courageously creative. Without the personal connection, there would be little invested.   Without a diversity of connections there would be little to learn from one another. These connections are exciting and collaboration is a natural byproduct.

Passion for improvement – our team see solutions where there are problems, opportunities in obstacles, and aren’t deterred by cynics and unfounded critics. At the same time, the greatest improvements often come when we challenge assumptions, especially our own. Our team values education and upending baseless assumptions.

Positive engagement – there is nothing more motivating than contagious positive energy aimed at supporting others. We seek it, share it, and generate it when no one else has it.

Come join the dream team of grass roots innovation in the military if you haven’t already! Find a way to start, join, or support an ATHENA event. With Dave in an advisory role in the civilian sector working to make projects a reality, feel free to reach out to me with any questions, comments, or concerns – I would be happy to share some of the fire in our bones.

LCDR Drew Barker is an E-6B pilot returning to the TACAMO community as a member of the VQ-4 Shadows. 

Get involved with Athena in San Diego in August and Norfolk in September! Stay tuned for more grassroots projects!

Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail!

Launching Athena Afloat!

By ENS Daniel Stefanus


USS ANCHORAGE (LPD 23) is proud to announce that on July 25th it will be holding the first-ever Athena event while on deployment!

We hope that this will lead to both more Athena events on ANCHORAGE and on other deployed ships. All of these will fall under the umbrella of “AthenaAfloat,” a slight change in the typical Athena script given the rather dramatic difference between a haze gray warship and a brewery.

While we know it will be more difficult at sea, we think that now is the perfect time for the crew to participate in Athena. On deployment the ship goes through the ringer, and the crew has to adapt and improve our systems to keep us mission-capable and battle-ready. It is this innovative and utilitarian spirit that we want to harness. Rather than let all of our sailors’ incredible ideas and solutions go to waste, we’re going to get them written down, disseminated, and implemented for the betterment of the entire fleet! This will not only pay dividends for other operational units, but also empower our sailors and show them that they do matter in the eyes of the Navy, that they can make a difference.

DCC Jake Wright and I are spearheading Athena on ANCHORAGE. Jake served on BENFOLD and saw Athena firsthand as it developed and evolved into the incredible forum it is today. He won Waterfront Athena 6 in San Diego with his ingenious adaptation to existing desmoking methods on US Navy warships (by creating an adapter to use box fans instead of RAM fans to desmoke a space in half the time!). His experience and perspective have been invaluable in currying support with the Chief’s Mess and by giving our CO, XO, and CMC a tangible connection to Athena to better explain how it works and why it matters.

DCC Wright and LTJG Jason Benning pitching the "Effing Awesome 7000" during Athena Six at San Diego's Coronado Brewing Company Tasting Room.

DCC Wright and LTJG Jason Benning pitching the “Effing Awesome 7000” during Athena Six at San Diego’s Coronado Brewing Company Tasting Room.

I’ve been on ANCHORAGE for a little over a year as the Fire Control Officer. A few months after I reported to San Diego, a Duke classmate recommended I check out the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum in San Diego (DEFxSD). There I met Dave Nobles and the Athena team. As they explained Athena I sat back and thought, “Wow, this is huge, our Sailors would love something like this.” In the presentation at DEFxSD I saw a picture of DCC Wright, who had recently arrived on ANCHORAGE, and knew it was a sign. Monday morning I sought out DCC Wright and talked to him about his experience with Athena. We agreed that Athena should be brought to ANCHORAGE.

However, DCC Wright and I knew we’d have to make some significant adjustments for the model to fit our crew and our situation on deployment. The primary challenges we saw with the Waterfront Athena model on a deployed ship were:

-Incentivizing the event properly to get a wide-range of Sailors interested and involved

-Finding a relaxed and open venue for the flow of ideas

-Getting sailors enough time and free space to think and develop their ideas

-Overcoming the lack of knowledge about Athena onboard

-Making the event fun but polished, so that the audience can understand the ideas and enjoy the presentations

-Connecting Sailors with off-ship developers and enablers

A ship's deployment is a great time to capture Sailors' great ideas for making the Navy better!

A ship’s deployment is a great time to capture Sailors’ great ideas for making the Navy better!

DCC and I met with our triad, who have been incredibly supportive, and worked out solutions that we believe will maximize Athena’s impact on ANCHORAGE:

-The winning Sailor(s) will get a reward package filled with free, but enticing prizes, especially for a deployed Sailor: a duty-free liberty port during deployment and 96- and 48-hour liberty chits for back in San Diego. We hope these will help pique the ship’s interest and overcome the initial skepticism that accompanies any product launch. The fully-loaded prize pack shows them how committed the CO, ANCHORAGE, and the Navy are to Athena’s success. I cannot stress enough how we would be nowhere without our command’s support. It is the most important key to success here, the foundation upon which all else rests.

-For a venue and idea space we’re going to try our ship’s chapel as it is the largest and most open space for people to congregate. We will also hold idea sessions in our electronic classroom, so Sailors can come up during the workday to use the internet and free time to enhance their pitch.

-DCC and I will personally go to all 20 divisions on the ship to explain Athena and show DCC’s winning idea from Athena 6. This will dramatically increase understanding of the event and get Sailors’ questions answered immediately from the source.

-DCC, “Idea Mentors” (volunteers), and I will then meet a couple times with each Sailor interested in pitching an idea. The first session will be a brainstorming/troubleshooting session in which we help the Sailor analyze and his/her idea so that he or she is able to present a more polished and well-thought out idea at the actual event. The second session will focus on presentation skills and how best to convey his/her idea. These will give the Sailor more confidence and make the pitches more enjoyable and understandable for the audience.

-Finally, to connect Sailors with off-ship developers, inventors, and enablers, we have this blog and the invaluable help of the Athena team. This post is meant to raise awareness of the event as it builds, so that as soon as we finish on July 25th we can get the word out and get our Sailors plugged into the incredible Athena network!

Of course, since this is the first time anyone has ever tried to do an Athena underway, we certainly won’t pretend to have all the answers… If you guys out there in the blogosphere have any ideas that you’d like to see us try, or want to kick start a similar event at your command, please connect with us!


ENS Stefanus is the Fire Control Officer onboard USS ANCHORAGE. To connect with him or DCC Wright, e-mail or

Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail!