When Bryce Luken took the technological innovations management course as an Air Force Academy cadet, it changed the trajectory of his career.
Now an Air Force captain — he graduated from AFA in 2008 — Luken now teaches the course he says sparked an entrepreneurial fire and assisted him in creating his own businesses.
But don’t innovation and entrepreneurship seem out of place in the Air Force? Not at all, says the 30-year-old instructor in the academy’s management department.
“We face an ever-changing adversary,” he said. “This isn’t the Cold War. We have to adapt to an adaptive adversary. They innovate; they adapt. We have to as well. In the cybersecurity industry, technology has a lifespan of 18 months — compare that to the 30- or 40-month cycle that government has in getting new products out. We have to innovate — come up with quick solutions to big problems. We have to adapt, to innovate.”
Luken recently took time to talk to the Business Journal about his love of business, teaching and his participation in the Quad University program, a collaboration between the AFA, UCCS, Pikes Peak Community College and Colorado College.
Why did you decide to join the Air Force?
I grew up in Lompoc, Calif., right outside Vandenberg Air Force Base. My mom was a third-grade teacher; my dad was a high school football coach. We lived close to the base, but we didn’t know anyone in the military. The Air Force Academy recruited me to play football — we’d won a couple of state championships, so I was on their radar. It was the first time I’d ever considered the military. I worked in Los Angeles after graduation, in space and satellite acquisitions.
How did you get interested in business and innovation?
I took the same course I’m teaching now — technological innovations management — and saw that this is what the Air Force needed, ways to innovate quickly. It was my favorite course; it planted a seed. So when I moved to Los Angeles and was working in acquisitions, I started my own company selling fitness equipment to Crossfit boxes. We worked at a coffee shop at 5 a.m. until time to go to work — we got to know the baristas pretty well. Then, we’d work from home at the end of the duty day.
After I got an MBA from [the University of California at Los Angeles], I started BodySpec. I’m still involved with that company. It’s basically a system that tells people their body composition: how much is fat, how much is muscle, how much is bone mass. We can even target areas and tell people if they have subcutaneous fat or visceral fat. We’re expanding now from California.
What is the Quad Innovation Program?
The Quad program is a partnership with four local colleges. It’s in its second year and is a four-week program. I’m directing the program this summer, based on the success of the innovation program here. Since I’ve been here [in 2013], we’ve put 300 cadets through the innovations course and won $70,000 in business plan competitions. The goal is to bring students, faculty and experts together to spur innovation. We are starting to create a robust startup economy, an entrepreneurial system that will keep them here. We want to team students with very different backgrounds to elevate the creativity and the diversity of thought.
What does Colorado Springs need to do to attract more young professionals?
Young professionals don’t really want to work for big multinational corporations. Some of them do, but most want to know that they are going to make a difference for the company. They don’t mind taking the risk, working at a small company, making the sacrifices, if they feel like there’s a chance to grow with the company. So we are building a robust, vibrant startup ecosystem here, one that will attract investment and keep young talent in the city.