Veterans Make Great Entrepreneurs

I just completed my seventh Patriot Boot Camp, presented by Techstars. PBC is a non-profit backed by the Techstars Foundation that my wife Amy and I have volunteered with for the past 5 years. While she is part of planning events, I focus on speaking and mentorship. Business development is the topic I speak on and, whatever the stage of company, the veterans are always full of gratitude for the exposure and information they get from the weekend. By the end, I feel I should be thanking THEM. We always get so much more out of the event than we put into it.  

A friend of mine asked me once why I invested so much time and energy to support Patriot Boot Camp and the veteran initiatives surrounding it. I answered: Even though I am not a veteran, I do it because veterans make great entrepreneurs. At the most recent PBC in San Antonio I reflected on some of the key competencies of successful entrepreneurs we see here at Techstars and how veterans bring these competencies from their service to their new endeavors as entrepreneurs:

Fortitude to Drive Through Adversity

Building a company is tough and it requires tireless leadership. Do veterans have this fortitude to drive through adversity? Here is one great example. While speaking with Colin Supko, a former Navy SEAL Commander, I realized that his tours in Iraq and Yemen in conjunction with his intense training more than equipped him with the tools to drive through adversity. He is building a peer to peer marketplace (Patriot Listwhere safety is crucial. Identities are verified as part of a trusted personal network of buyers and sellers. 

Ability to Find Product-market Fit

Finding product-market fit is the first critical first step in building a successful company. Executing against an idea and finding product market fit will be no problem for Matt Lembright, a former Army Signals Intelligence officer at the NSA. He is currently building a platform (Enabld Securityfor us to protect our online identities across all of the solutions we use.

Building a Large Organization Around New Technologies

Ali Ahmadi is the co-founder at AirZaar Inc. I met him and was instantly convinced that he has what it takes to build a large organization with a strong operating discipline. His company has created a platform for managing data acquired by drones for surveying in the mining industry. Ali served over 8 years in the US Navy as a Drone Pilot with 650+ successful flights under his belt, and he managed multiple drone surveillance programs within the Department of Defense. This experience has led him to build technology infrastructure to manage drone data intelligence at a scale only done in the US Military. Now he is taking his experience and translating it to support industries like mining and construction.

 

The next Patriot Boot Camp is in Denver, Colorado on September 22-24. If you are a veteran entrepreneur, apply here. If you would like to learn more about helping out with this cause, you can find more info here.








The Top Five Reasons why Veterans Interested in Entrepreneurship Should Attend Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend.

***Reposted from www.combatveteranswithptsd.org/blog with author’s permission***

For those of you who don’t know, my passion for entrepreneurship was born at the inaugural Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend in 2012.  It ignited a passion that still motivates me today.  It motivated me to pursue social entrepreneurship and to found my nonprofit.

One of the things that I have noticed, though, is how few veterans I run into at these events – and that really confused me.  According to the SBA, approximately 40% of returning veterans would prefer to start their own business or ‘not work for anyone but themselves’.  Veterans who start businesses are twice as likely to grow a successful business when compared to those who have never served.

So why do so few veterans participate in Startup Weekend?  I have my theories, but they’re not substantiated by any research and fact.  Instead of focusing on why veterans don’t attend, I thought I’d present my top five reasons why our local veterans SHOULD attend.

So Here Goes…


1. Startup Weekend is a Great Way to Test Entrepreneurship Waters

I know there are a lot of veterans who consider starting their own business or have great ideas but never test the waters because they are too risk averse or don’t know if an idea is value-added and marketable.  Startup Weekend is an opportunity to test ideas and test the waters, with no strings attached.  You get to learn about the culture, the energy, and can discover whether entrepreneurship is something that kindles the creative fire inside you.  At the end of the weekend, even if your team wins the competition, you can walk away if you find that the environment doesn’t work for you.  The only thing that is asked of you is that you focus and dedicate your time for one weekend.  Where you take it from there is completely up to you.  The worst that can happen is you find out, one way or the other, whether entrepreneurship is right for you.

2. The Positive Environment Helps Transitioning Veterans Connect with Like-Minded Professionals

Startup Weekend has an amazing energy.  A very talented pool of people get together for a weekend to generously offer up their talent to develop new applications, manufacture revolutionary new products, and more.  It provides a natural feeling of camaraderie that will feel very familiar to veterans.  This makes Startup Weekend an ideal environment for veterans transitioning out of the military.  It’s non-threatening and everyone appreciates what you can contribute, regardless of your level of experience.  Not only that, participants break out into small teams of competent people to work on separate projects and depend heavily on each other to work autonomously on their portions of the work.  Talk about an ideal setting to soften the cultural blow for veterans just transitioning back into civilian life.  Additionally, veterans will meet like-minded people that they can relate to and share their passion with, making it that much easier to overcome the cultural divide between military and civilian life, allowing civilians and veterans to better understand the value inherent in their respective backgrounds.

3. Companies Are Starting to Recognize that Startup Weekend is a Treasure Trove of Hidden Talent

Very early on, organizers recognized that getting local companies and highly visible large enterprises (think Google and Coke, for example) had a vital role to play in supporting and sponsoring Startup Weekend.  Successful local entrepreneurs were enlisted to be mentors and judges for the events.  What those sponsors, mentors and judges discovered in short order was the inordinate amount of hidden and grossly underemployed talent attending these events.  Over time, Startup Weekend has become not only an event celebrating the entrepreneur in all of us but a hotbed for hiring talent.  I’ll extend it a step further and tell my story.  In early 2012, I attended a hackathon organized by a local teach group called LV Tech.  It was there that I was first exposed to the generous and lively spirit common at other entrepreneurial events.  While there, I started talking to a guy that I quickly found out was a fellow vet.  He spoke very highly of hackathons and especially Startup Weekend.  After the event, we kept in touch and that fall, I attended the inaugural Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend.  It was an amazing experience and our team came in third. The team that won later became one of the most promising startups in the educational space, by the way.  Well, over the course of that event, I’d proven myself to be adaptable, reliable and motivated.  I made connections there that I still maintain to this day.  Time passed and the guy who had introduced me to Startup Weekend back in 2012 reached out to me earlier this year.  He had started a business.  He had a need for someone with proven writing skills and the ability to learn quickly on the fly to help with technical writing.  What started as a trial run for ten hours a week quickly morphed into a full-time transition.  He brought me on as his first W-2 employee just a few months later and I am now the Capture Manager for the company.  He saw my potential –  a potential in the intangibles that never get seen when large companies are screening thousands of resumes.  And it all started with an innocuous conversation and a Startup Weekend.

4. Veterans Provide Skills and Valuable Lessons Learned Stemming from Military Service

Veterans have a very valuable set of ‘soft skills’ that have been ingrained in them as a result of their military service.  Among these skills are adaptability, autonomy, teamwork, professionalism, decision making, and laser-like focus on task and mission.  These skills are a value added proposition for any team or company and especially valuable in the accelerated setting at Startup Weekend.  I have yet to run into a team that hasn’t found working with veterans extremely rewarding and productive.  Many have come to realize this and have openly lamented the limited participation of veterans at these events.

5. Veterans in Attendance Help to Break the Stigma Surrounding PTSD

The stigma surrounding PTSD affects all returning veterans.  About five years ago, there was a concerted effort to dramatically increase the awareness of the prevalence of PTSD in veterans returning home – approximately one in five veterans of the current conflicts is returning home with some degree of PTSD.  This was done very irresponsibly.  They succeeded in raising awareness but never followed up with educating people on how PTSD impacted our veteran community.  As a result, the prevailing stereotypes about PTSD that dated back to the Vietnam War are what the uneducated ended up believing.  The stigma has become so strong that they have actually given this PTSD-specific stigma a name – ‘The Rambo Effect’.  As a result of the increased awareness, this stigma now negatively impacts the lives of all returning veterans.  Employers don’t want to hire young veterans because they fear that they may be introducing a destabilizing element into their workforce.  All of the positive qualities I spoke of in the previous point are either forgotten or summarily ignored as a result of this stigma.  Veterans, with and without PTSD that attend these types of events, demonstrate the positive qualities that employers used to highly value.  By just being themselves veterans can prove just how wrong the prevailing stereotypes are – without ever even mentioning PTSD.

So There You Have It…

Veterans have a lot to offer.  I hope that the reasons I have listed above are motivation for more veterans in the Lehigh Valley to attend this year’s event.  Lehigh Valley Startup Weekend takes place this November 14th – 16th.  As one on the organizers, and a fellow veteran, I’d love to see you out there.  For more information please visit their website.
I’d love to hear feedback from anyone reading this. If anyone has any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to reach out to me!







Vet Commander: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Awesome Jobs

This story is written by Blake Hogan, co-founder of  Vet Commander – 30 Second Online Interviews For Veterans.

As Veterans we are servant leaders.  We serve out of a sense of duty to God and Country, but we move toward the sound of fire to protect our comrades. Veterans are an interesting breed.  We come from all walks of life and converge on a shared experience of pain in training and come out the other end a well-oiled machine.

We are city boys and farm girls. We are Ivy League and street smart. We are a band of warriors who seek to serve first and fight hard.  We are America’s finest and we are about to be America’s finest workforce.

I was inspired to serve, in part, because of the Greatest Generation.  My grandpa, Dennis A. Hedstrom, was a Motor Machinist First Mate in the United States Navy serving in the European theatre during World War II.

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He modeled what it means to be a good man and a good neighbor.  Above all else, he showed me that I should stand tall and always the answer the call to serve our great Nation.

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After being commissioned, I moved on to The Basic School to complete initial infantry training prior to receiving the coveted MOS or job, for all those civilians reading this.  As my luck would have it, I was injured in training and my career in the Marine Corps was quickly derailed.

Ever the entrepreneur, I sought to serve in the limited capacity I could.  While taking on challenges ranging from training officer to serving wounded warriors via Horseback riding therapy, I endeavored to serve in a meaningful way.

After a hip surgery, rehabilitation, and ultimately a medical board, I was deemed unfit to serve.  It was a heartbreaking verdict that left a Marine Officer without a platoon to serve and a gut wrenching feeling of a failed mission.

I was haunted by this notion that I had come so close and not crossed the line of departure to lead Marines in combat.  I moved on to a successful corporate career but could not escape this unfinished desire to serve.  It all came to a head while watching the evening news.  There I was watching my war go by knowing there was nothing I could do about it.  I wanted desperately to jump through the screen and serve but knew God had another plan for me.

Knowing that I could no longer grab a rifle and march toward the sound of fire I had to come up with something that would allow me to continue serving in a powerful way.  Vet Commander was born out of this desire. I partnered with fellow Marine Davis Dolezal to serve Veterans by connecting them with America’s Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners.

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Together we have developed a powerful tool that will provide a video interviewing and job matching website to Veterans. Vet Commander goes beyond a simple jobs site and creates a renewed sense of camaraderie through our VetWorking events. These events bring Veterans, Veteran Advocates, and Employers together in a laid back environment opposite to that of your standard job fair.  After all, no one likes interviewing, so we introduced a little fun into the process.

Vet Commander is our way to continue serving and we hope you will join our ranks and support our mission of connecting America’s proven talent with America’s best businesses.

Standby for fireworks as Vet Commander will officially launch our website on the only appropriate date to do so, America’s Independence Day, July 4th, 2014.

Semper Fidelis America.

Note: Blake Hogan will be working with the Cochise Military Community Startup Weekend team in the future to host a Startup Weekend at Ft. Hood, Texas.