Refinery Welcomes Two Defense Ventures Fellows


I am proud to announce that Refinery has been selected to be part of a venture capital initiative that helps the Department of Air Force solve problems and deliver better capability to warfighters, faster.


The AFVentures Fellowship Program allows fellows—emerging innovators from the US military—to gain on-the-ground tech industry experiences at some of the world’s most advanced venture capital firms, incubators, and startups across the United States. This allows them to understand risk management, the developing technology landscape, and build relationships that can help the Department of Defense advance technologically.


After a several-month review, we are proud to have been selected to welcome a series of fellows to Refinery as part of the program. This was an outstanding opportunity to work with and help educate the next generation of American national security leaders on how investment capital and technology can protect our country.


We’d like to introduce you to the first 2 fellows we had with us in February and March, and the upcoming fellows we will have with us through spring. These future senior military leaders who worked with us on our portfolio, assessed new deals from a dual-use perspective, and helped to bridge the gap between the commercial industry and the US Government.


Meet our fellows from February and March

Lieutenant Colonel Joe Stallings

Lieutenant Colonel Joe Stallings is Deputy Division Chief and Political-Military Affairs Strategist, Pentagon, Washington DC, where he executes Air Staff international engagements and inter-service Warfighter Talks.


Joe has accomplished several proposal evaluations for AFWERX’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) on COVID-19 response and on open innovation. He is passionate about improving defense innovation, leveraging startups and small businesses, and enabling collaboration to tackle common challenges.


A short interview with Lieutenant Colonel Joe Stallings

Why is AFVentures an important program?

The United States is entering a critical period of competition against aggressive nations, and we face challenges with declining resources and with recruiting and maintaining talent. The Defense Ventures Fellowship Program offers a chance for military leaders to learn from industry experts in startups and venture capital firms.  We are also given a chance to share our experiences and provide background information on national security challenges. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity creates a network of subject matter experts passionate about working together to solve complex problems and accomplishing common missions. Bridging the growing gap between emerging technology creators and the military who once led the way in research and development is critical to safeguarding freedom and way of life for all Americans.


What have you learned while working with Refinery Ventures?

Refinery Ventures has provided me with a chance to learn how the venture capital community helps shape the future. Refinery’s success in identifying startups poised for hypergrowth offers many parallels for military decision-making and ensuring mission success.


Refinery Ventures sits in a unique geographic location, outside the typical big city centers of venture capital and technology companies in California or New York. However, Refinery has taught me a lesson to share with military bases in even more remote locations: we can truly succeed if we look outside these already stressed areas and take advantage of under-tapped pools of capital and talent across our nation.


What will you bring back and apply to your own job?

The fellowship has allowed me to dive into deeper discussions with other cohort members. In preparing for our capstone and writing projects, we are tackling complex problems like needed acquisition reform, restructuring investment strategies to build the defense industrial and innovation base of the future, and ideas we can offer senior leaders to ensure the military can accelerate change.


Dr. Peter Khooshabeh

Dr. Peter Khooshabeh is the regional lead for ARL West, the hub for the United States Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s corporate research laboratory in California. As the first open-campus hub for the Army in the West Coast region started in 2016, ARL West focuses on human and information interaction research. It provides fundamental knowledge and operationalizes science towards new warfighter capabilities, such as augmented and virtual reality interfaces and novel visualizations. Dr. Khooshabeh oversees the daily operation of a combination of 40 government civilians and contractors, including students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting researchers.


A short interview with Dr. Peter Khooshabeh

Why is AFVentures an important program?

The Defense Ventures Fellowship Program, funded by AFVentures, is important for several reasons. First, the stellar staff and curriculum that they develop do a great job of combining pedagogical learning through the four books and several articles that we read with more experiential learning opportunities. The second reason for why the program is important is that we get to meet and interact with many quality speakers several times a week during regular seminars. Lastly and most importantly, our Cohort 5 consists of people from all the services from both the uniformed military personnel and civilian government employee communities who all intend to make positive change. I foresee this network growing in solidarity and ability to make an impact, now and in the future.

What have you learned while working with Refinery Ventures?

Given the diversity of different VCs we’ve been meeting with, one thing I’ve learned is that each firm has a unique “thesis” that defines it. Along those lines, Refinery has really differentiated itself by clearly demonstrating its role in helping startups get to hypergrowth. In the several deal flow meetings I’ve been in, it was interesting to see how Tim assesses how each new company could fit and play well with other portfolio companies.

What will you bring back and apply to your own job?

Well, first off, I’m in the Army, so one thing I will bring back is an awareness of how the Air Force does things!  Other than that, I’m getting another close look at how a VC sets up its venture studio and the goals it hopes to accomplish through that aspect of Refinery’s VC platform.


Meet Our Fellows With Us In the Spring

Lieutenant Commander Christopher Knapp

Lieutenant Commander Christopher Knapp is an interdisciplinary learner with a proven track record of implementing winning strategies within high-performing organizations to achieve time-sensitive goals. His passion is to transform organizational processes by prioritizing innovation over stagnation, while capitalizing on a background of empowering dynamic and multicultural teams. Presently, Christopher works at the intersection of the military, academia, and industry as the Deputy Director of Naval Postgraduate School’s (NPS) Emerging Technology Consortium working directly with the Central Coast NavalX Tech Bridge.

Harnessing the knowledge he obtained throughout his Naval career, he is tasked with helping to modernize today’s military through the identification, development, and funding (both government and private sector investments) of new technologies.  His undergrad is in Public Relations (UNC-Chapel Hill), and he has a Master’s in Homeland Security and Defense focused on identifying disruptive innovation (Naval Postgraduate School).

Major Donovan Hutchins

Major Donovan Hutchins is a space systems acquisition and operations officer for the U.S. Air Force currently serving as the Launch Communication Support Branch Chief at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in Chantilly, VA. He leads a team of 100+ staff who support the design, acquisition, installation, operation, and maintenance of the Department of Defense (DoD), Intelligence Community, and NRO’s information technology networks to facilitate seamless data connectivity between satellites and ground stations.


In 11 years of active-duty service, Major Hutchins has served in various roles spanning program management, training, space launch and satellite operations. These roles include Senior Evaluator of space launch operations for the DoD’s Eastern Range (rocket range supporting missile and rocket launches) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL; Deputy Chief of Integration and Operations for the DoD’s Space Test Program supporting human spaceflight research and development on the International Space Station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center; and Program Manager and Operations Lead for a satellite system at the NRO’s premier operational ground station. In June 2021, Major Hutchins will step into the role of Director of Operations for the DoD’s Western Range at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.


We were ecstatic to have Lt.-Col Stallings and Dr. Khooshabeh join us, and excited for LCDR Knapp and Major Hutchins to be with us through the spring.