Captain Robin Russell (USN-Ret) Reflects on His GW OIE Fellowship

March 8, 2024

Photo of Robin Russell

In October, the GW OIE team welcomed Capt. Robin Russell for a six-month fellowship to discover our best practices in leading a community of student entrepreneurs. Capt. Russell, currently on sabbatical as a professor of program management at the Defense Systems Management College (DSMC), had an impressive 40-year career in the U.S. Navy. During his time, he commanded a U.S Navy Destroyer during 9/11, earned a Maritime Warfare Excellence Award and became a recognized expert in National Missile Defense. 

But where does Robin’s passion for entrepreneurship come from? In 2012, Robin became the Director of Operations (and later served as Vice President) at Basic Engineering Concepts & Technologies, Inc., a woman-owned small business where he managed contracts and led a team of 50 employees in Australia. 

“It was a very small business but I did everything from finding new work, to manning the new contracts that we won, to writing proposals, then going out and finding new business - which was eye-opening…”  Robin’s switch in roles gave him a fresh perspective behind entrepreneurship. “Out in the small business world, you really have to hustle, I think the risk involved was different and interesting.” 

However, Robin felt his “heart was always in teaching.” He later became a professor of international acquisition and exportability, and then of program management, at the DSMC, a branch campus of the Defense Acquisition University (DAU). The classes Robin facilitates are 5-week intensive courses taught to mid to senior active duty officers across all branches of the military. 

Now taking a required sabbatical to dive into the elements of acquisition, Robin was intrigued to learn about what universities are doing in innovation.

More specifically, Robin started his fellowship to learn how OIE is creating a community of  student entrepreneurs through our programming, mentors-in-residence and New Venture Competition. He was able to attend our online workshops, in-person events, and connect with students during the past six months. “I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to participate in the curriculum leading up to the (New Venture) Competition,”

He reflects further, “I think my biggest takeaway was how very important the processes you all put in place are to be successful. Customer discovery, for example, is tremendous and the mentors-in-residence are fantastic. And this equates almost exactly to our executive coaches within the DOD (Department of Defense)”.

Robin’s shared advice for students looking to combine a career in entrepreneurship and the defense industry is to attend trade shows and network within the community. “Every segment of the defense industry is represented and each service has their own show…that’s where you find out about the industry, about what the opportunities are, and what the future trends are,” he shared.