Mission Driven Entrepreneurship: Students solve real-world security problems


Satellite imagery of Arctic sea ice

Satellite imagery of Arctic sea ice

Security & Resilience MSc students worked in teams for 10 weeks to find solutions for real-world problems and succeeded.

Security is often only viewed through the narrow lens of conflict and war. The mission of the Institute for Security Science and Technology at Imperial College London is to challenge that perception and demonstrate the breadth and depth of a topic that touches everyone in society, wherever they are in the world. 

As part of that mission, 21 of the Institute’s Security & Resilience MSc students worked in teams for 10 weeks to find solutions for real-world problems in arenas as wide-ranging as naval navigation in polar regions, the creation of transportable and sustainable water supplies, identifying suitable river crossing sites in a tactical environment and safe communication to and from areas with damaging levels of noise. 

The ‘Mission Driven Entrepreneurship: Hacking for Security’ module is conducted in collaboration with the Ministry of Defence and led by the Common Mission Project, an organisation focussed on building mission-driven entrepreneurs to solve critical national security and defence, civic and social challenges. 

Yexuan Jiang was a member of team Ice Infested Waters, tasked with developing a solution to the many challenges in providing vessels in polar regions with up-to-date information on sea ice within their operating area.

Current systems rely on the translation of satellite imagery into ice charts, a time-intensive process that often gives outdated results. Any remote sensing conducted from vessels cannot provide sufficient detail on ice age or thickness, critical factors for ship safety design parameters.

Such challenges have real world consequences: in 2007, the ice-strengthened cruise ship MV EXPLORER was holed by ice and sank in Antarctica.

Yexuan and the rest of her team aimed to provide access to free and secure high-resolution ice data in the order of minutes rather than hours and to systematically leverage human observation data, reducing the time it takes to communicate such information between vessels. If achieved, this would enable the delivery of timely, actionable information to key decision makers, averting accidents in the polar regions.

Over 10 weeks, the team of five MSc students approached 157 stakeholders and conducted 84 interviews to deepen their understanding of the problem, ultimately presenting a viable solution that could be further developed for the market.

"We succeeded in designing a web-based platform for real-time ice data collecting and sharing: Crowdsourced Hazard Identification Management and Escalation (CHIME). This platform is designed to run in a low-bandwidth environment and can provide navigators with timely (minutes) sea ice information to help them judge the situation." - Yexuan Jiang

As Captain Michael Wood RN, formerly of HMS PROTECTOR, put it: “I was very impressed by the H4MOD team assembled by Imperial College. They grappled with a novel application – creating an integrated process for collating and reporting upon near-real time ice conditions as they impact mariners in polar regions – and were entirely responsive to feedback, without being constrained by it. I think they generated a well-informed solution, having consulted much more widely than I could have as the problem sponsor.”

Having the opportunity to apply their academic knowledge and problem-solving skills to real global security challenges was strongly motivating for the participating students, including Yexuan Jiang.

"Hacking for Security taught me many valuable lessons and gave me the opportunity to get hands-on experience with practical tasks. I gained a clear understanding of the start-up process and realised that designing a product requires a multi-faceted approach, as various stakeholders must be considered."


About the Common Mission Project 

The Common Mission Project is a UK charity that works in partnership with the UK Government, to support the delivery of their Mission Driven Entrepreneurship™  courses at universities across the UK.  

Since its inception, the Common Mission Project has demonstrated that students can tackle some of the toughest government problems and, in doing so, create vibrant and diverse ecosystems where government, academia, and industry build partnerships around problems, prototypes, and solutions to urgent challenges facing the UK.  


H4 Today 

The Common Mission Project’s ‘Hacking for’ courses are run at over 71 universities around the world. The ‘Hacking for’ methodology was specifically designed for mission-driven organisations (e.g. government), enabling fresh talent, diversity of thought and approaches to engage with tough, recurring problems in big bureaucracies. The module’s interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial design provides students the opportunity to address these problems using non-traditional problem-solving methods to solve a problem in 10 weeks.


Jack Cooper

Jack Cooper
Institute of Global Health Innovation


Engineering-Computing, Security-science, Entrepreneurship, Students
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