Below is a guest post by David Cass. Cass is an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the CEO and founder of Uvize, an education technology start-up focused on student success.
Techstars just completed the inaugural Patriot Boot Camp, a condensed (3 day) start up accelerator in Washington DC for military veterans. As a veteran and an entrepreneur I was excited to attend but I was also a little skeptical. I have attended business events for veterans in the past and many of them either treat us like a victims group or they turn into a place for vets to share war stories; neither of which is productive for serious entrepreneurs. Techstars version fell into neither of those categories and packed a serious punch in three days. Speakers ranged from General George Casey to CTO of the United States, Todd Park, who gave a rising speech about “creating awesomeness.” An incredible array of mentors also came and spent one-on-one time with the selected companies.
Let’s start with my first mentor meeting with David Cohen. As I introduced my business to David, I expressed to him my confidence in my company and solution. He responded, “So what? Every entrepreneur is confident in his idea.” I knew at that moment that these mentors were here to coach and not to cheer lead. Perfect, if I wanted sugar-coated cheer leading, I’d call my mom. The mentors chosen seemed to truly get that while unconventional, the military is a powerful training ground for entrepreneurship and they coached us accordingly. Veterans are smart, agile, and committed. We are comfortable with risk and we are comfortable leading. While 22 year old whiz kids are “cheap to keep alive,” veterans know how to stay alive and succeed in very stressful environments.
A highlight for me was the veterans who attended and the network that was created. Since leaving the military and seeking a career in technology start-ups, I have felt like a bit of an odd ball. Meeting the other veterans who are still committed to serving others but are now attacking new problems through entrepreneurship was inspiring. And now that I think of it, I didn’t overhear any military war stories during the whole program; we were just too busy discussing the future for that type of rearward thinking. I found my tribe and it was great to be in room full of gunslingers again. By the way, the businesses my fellow vets are creating are awesome!
But the real magic was in the unlikely relationships formed. I saw highly accomplished military officers humble themselves and listen intently to advice and mentorship from entrepreneurs who in some cases were many years their junior. Had it not been for Techstars, these paths would probably never have crossed. The interaction by these unlikely partners is really what made the week so effective. David Cohen, Taylor McLemore, Tom Chikoore (and those behind the scenes) may have never worn a uniform but their commitment to service is no different than those of us who have. I’m looking forward to next year and maybe even being ‘mentor’ by then.