Mines News

Release Date Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Mines Student Leverages University Ecosystem of Entrepreneurship to Launch DoD Software Company

John Barbour, a Mines student and co-founder of the company CounSil LLC, receives his 1st place from South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem during the 2023 Governor’s Giant Vision Competition on April 25 in Sioux Falls. Barbour’s company, CounSil LLC, provides software solutions to the Department of Defense.


When John Barbour graduated from South Dakota Mines this spring, he started his first job with his own company. Barbour, a chemical engineering major, is one of the founders of CounSil, LLC. The company seeks to serve software needs within the United States Department of Defense (DoD).

South Dakota Mines offers a range of opportunities for students to sharpen their entrepreneurial skills, and Barbour took advantage of them all. As a freshman, he joined the Innovation Club on campus and then signed up for the university’s Engineers Make Great Entrepreneurs speaker series. He went on to enter the CEO Business and Giant Vision Competitions, where he got the chance to build business plans and pitch them to panels of judges. He also cultivated relationships with mentors in the university’s Entrepreneur in Residence Program, which includes a volunteer group of seasoned business creators across multiple industries. All of this instilled a number of the important skills required to launch a high-tech start-up company.

“Fellow students like alumnus Bill Trevillyan were also awesome mentors to me,” says Barbour. “Bill helped introduce me to the entrepreneurial community on campus, and this exposed me to the opportunities here. All of this got me excited to build my own company in the Black Hills.” 

Barbour took an important step in starting this company when he enrolled in the semester-long course Hacking for Defense at Mines, which is run by the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN). Elevate Rapid City published this article on Barbour’s experience in this course that opened the door to an NSIN X-Force Fellowship in the summer of 2021. During this fellowship, Barbour was connected with real-world problems at the DoD and tasked to find a solution.

During the X-Force Fellowship, Barbour joined fellow student, Sebastian Nau at Texas A&M they later brought on Manasy Manoj who also took part in the Hacking for Defense Course at Texas A&M. The trio was then introduced to top-brass at Ellsworth Air Force Base. Their problem was an antiquated system for prioritizing needs on base with available funds from different pools of money at the end of every year.

“The current system for purchasing with these funds is cumbersome and labor intensive,” says Barbour. “In the end, this can limit the Air Force from becoming mission-ready rapidly, and our nation’s ability to quickly become mission-ready is important for our defense overall.”

Through NSIN, Barbour and his team were able to work directly with military leadership. In a series of meetings, they learned the details of the problem, its variables and the challenges in overcoming the issues they faced.

“The ability to have access and talk to these different groups of DoD leaders was a pretty incredible opportunity; this is thanks entirely to NSIN,” he says.

Through this process, Barbour and his team were able to begin the problem-solving process and the solutions they have proposed are now spinning-off into their own company. CounSil, LLC is helping build a software solution for Ellsworth.

“The main priority of CounSil, LLC is speeding up the Air Force’s ability to become mission ready quickly, while optimizing the amount of funding available,” says Barbour. “Given that Ellsworth is now in the process of scaling up to take on the B-21 Raider, this is an issue that will only get more complex for base leadership.”

Furthermore, Barbour says the company plans to develop solutions that can work not only for Ellsworth Airforce Base but across many other government sectors.

“This is a common problem across almost every Air Force base that we have spoken with; our plan is to develop a solution we can sell to the whole Air Force,” says Barbour. “Given the state of the world and the current number of global threats, this is an important problem to solve.” 

Barbour’s initial success with the DoD also opened the door at Elevate Rapid City’s David Lust Accelerator Building (DLAB), where the company now has an office. The business incubator gives start-ups and small businesses, like CounSil, LLC, a low-cost place from which to launch their business. The incubator provides a wide range of resources to help get new businesses on their feet. Barbour says it’s a game changer.

“This has been an amazing resource not only to be in this incubator and to access these resources but also to be around all these like-minded entrepreneurs in this environment,” says Barbour.

In the spring of 2023, Barbour was selected as the first recipient of the annual Mines Entrepreneurial Fellowship Award. The award provides a select group of students an opportunity to stay in school after graduation and earn a one-year accelerated master’s in engineering management, and at the same time, provide a $20,000 stipend to support them as they develop their entrepreneurial venture. This is the final step of our Student Innovation Pathway and designed to be catalyst to allow select students to choose the entrepreneurial path right out of college. Students who land this award must show incredible drive and determination to achieve success.

On April 25, Barbour won 1st place in the student division of the 2023 Governor’s Giant Vision Competition against a highly competitive field of entrants. Mines teams took home four of the top five spots.  “It’s the pinnacle of the innovation cycle,” says Barbour.

“John deserves a lot of credit for his incredible drive and determination to make all of this happen,” says Mines President Jim Rankin.

Over the coming months Barbour will also continue to grow his skills with help from Wildfire Labs. The accelerator, formed by Mines alumnus and the university’s Entrepreneur in Residence Todd Gagne, helps fledging businesses, like CounSil LLC, launch their software product and grow their company.

“They have a proven methodology for developing software that utilizes iterative design to solve problems and support the needs of business growth throughout various stages,” says Barbour. “We’re also lucky to have advice and mentorship from both Todd Gagne and Mike Vetter at Wildfire Labs.”

He says the next step for CounSil LLC is to secure funding from a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. Throughout his time at Mines, Barbour gives praise to the ecosystem around campus and in the Black Hills that supports small companies like his.

“I can’t thank Joseph Wright, Mines associate vice president of economic development, and Jason Combs, NSIN university program director, enough; they have been guardian angels that have helped get us to the point we are today. Elevate Rapid City took us further with this spot in the DLAB. In return, I hope we can grow this company to bring more jobs to the Black Hills all while improving our own national defense,” says Barbour. 



About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu