From intern to innovator – meet NATO’s Moritz Zimmermann
Moritz Zimmermann started at NATO as an intern. Now, he’s the Deputy Chief of Staff of a team establishing the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic. DIANA is NATO’s new body working with leading researchers and entrepreneurs across the Alliance, helping them develop technologies to keep NATO populations safe and secure. We spoke to Moritz about the big tech challenges facing the Alliance, how DIANA will tackle them and what it’s like to be part of a new generation of innovators at NATO.
From intern to innovator: Moritz’s NATO journey
When Moritz first applied to NATO’s internship programme, he never imagined that he would one day contribute to the Alliance’s innovation efforts.
“When I received the NATO internship offer to work directly on NATO’s counter-terrorism policies, it was a perfect fit for my studies on NATO, Iraq and ISIS,” says Moritz. “Through the internship programme, however, we had the chance to learn about NATO’s work in other divisions and I Iearned about NATO’s Science for Peace and Security (SPS) programme, which was supporting the development of technologies to counter terrorism, among other things.”
Following his internship, Moritz took on a role with the SPS programme and began to work more closely on emerging and disruptive technologies.
“When I first joined SPS, I was initially only interested in its counter-terrorism projects,” he explains. “But the experience introduced me to so many unique and fascinating technological developments across many other domains. As I delved deeper into this field, my focus began to shift to harnessing innovations of all kinds and exploring their potential to enhance Allied security.”
As part of his new role, Moritz had the unique opportunity to support the drafting of a discussion paper on emerging and disruptive technologies for NATO Defence Ministers in June 2018.
“It was a fascinating and rewarding experience to be in the room for the discussion and see Defence Ministers from across NATO discuss the very same paper I helped draft. As it happens, this discussion was a key driver in building the NATO Innovation Unit, which I later joined.”
As a member of NATO’s Innovation Unit, Moritz and his team came to the conclusion that in the face of a rapidly changing tech landscape – with things like artificial intelligence and biotechnology influencing every aspect of life, including security – NATO needed a new tool to keep pace. Enter DIANA.
Meet DIANA: putting NATO on the innovation map
DIANA’s acceleration programme and test centre network will serve as a hub for the Alliance’s innovators. Start-ups, scientific researchers and technology companies will receive grants, mentorship, and access to the expertise they need to develop their ideas into viable products. DIANA will also give them new opportunities to engage with end-users, including procurement and security officials from Allied governments who will use these new technologies to protect their citizens.
For Moritz and his team, this ground-breaking project – unveiled at NATO’s 2021 Brussels Summit, and launching its first pilot activities in 2023 – began with a simple but compelling idea.
“In the same way that I was interested in international security but never connected the dots between security and technology, I am sure that there are passionate people in the technology sector who have not thought to connect their work to security or NATO,” Moritz reflects.
“Although NATO has long kept its edge in the military domain, we recognised that today new technologies, like artificial intelligence, are mostly coming from the non-military domain – but they can nevertheless have a huge impact on how militaries function. This is why DIANA is focused on ‘dual-use’ deep tech – transformational technologies that are mainly developed for commercial markets and uses, but that can have defence and security applications as well.”
In brainstorming on how NATO can keep its technological edge in this changing world, the groundwork for DIANA began.
DIANA has test centres and accelerator sites across the Alliance, allowing NATO to support innovators where they are already working and help them connect with each other.
“Who is DIANA? Why ‘DIANA’ as a name for an innovation accelerator? We get these questions a lot,” laughs Moritz.
“To be honest, DIANA went without a name for a long time. At one point we were considering how to make the acronym ‘JEDI’ work with the words ‘Defence Innovation’, but none of us were that enthusiastic about it. It actually happened that when we planned to unveil the Accelerator in 2021, the Italian Ambassador to NATO at the time had the idea to call it ‘DIANA’ as Diana is the Roman goddess of the hunt – and with DIANA, we are ‘hunting’ for innovative ideas so to speak.”
DIANA itself began as one of these ideas. Now, Moritz is helping set up its offices, hubs and test sites, laying a foundation to unlock the vast potential of innovation by bringing people together.
“There are brilliant people across the Alliance who may know everything about coding and highly specific technical research but nothing about starting a business, and vice versa,” says Moritz. “DIANA is about giving our best and brightest a unique platform to reach their full potential, which will help NATO realise its full potential as well.”
Reaching their full potential: NATO interns and young professionals
Moritz’s story is one of many such stories at NATO. Not every intern stays on with the Organization, let alone helps to set up a groundbreaking new body like DIANA. Nevertheless, the NATO Internship Programme and Young Professionals Programme (and similar programmes at NATO’s wide array of commands and agencies) have given a new generation of diverse, young leaders a foot in the door at NATO, and often acted as the first step on their international career journey with the Alliance.
For aspiring NATO interns and young professionals who want to reach their own full potential and contribute to the Alliance, Moritz offers some advice based on his own experience.
“I think that specialisation can be super important, but it is equally important to keep an open mind, try new things and never stop learning. Although it may seem like my studies have nothing to do with what I am currently working on in DIANA, they were instrumental to my journey here at NATO. So long as you are passionate, open for change and ambitious, there are many opportunities to learn and grow.”