This article is written by Dr. Sean Siebert, Professor at Columbia College of Missouri.
Transitioning military personnel from active duty to civilian life has always been, and continues to be, an ongoing challenge for our country. While returning to civilian life presents new opportunities, including the ability to spend more time with friends and family, there are many challenges that our Veterans face during this transitional process. The acclimation to a civilian life that encompasses an entirely different structure makes anxiety heighten around finances, family/friends communication and what comes next. Particularly, a substantial amount of servicemen and women find it difficult to exit the military and transition to a civilian job. And, as a civilian society, we compound this problem through our devaluation of the military experience.
I teach for Columbia College of Missouri, a military-friendly institute, as an adjunct faculty member in their business program both in-seat and online. Through this relationship, I have had the opportunity to teach, advise, and mentor hundreds of veterans and active duty military personnel over the past five years. Sadly, I have come to learn a pain point of this transition process all too well. On many occasions I have witnessed how civilian society “casts away” our Veterans skill set, experience, and military education as if it never happened at all; their entire military life is discounted because it did not happen in the “civilian” world. As a byproduct, a substantial amount of former servicemen and women end up in jobs they are way overqualified for. From there, the cycle of setting a Veteran up for professional failure is set. Is it a struggle to understand why many Veterans never truly find satisfaction in most civilian jobs?
I am about to share with you an amazing story that carries a significant social impact. This story illustrates the powerful role entrepreneurship and Startup Weekend can play in transitioning active duty military personnel to civilian life. Further, it displays the excellent learning opportunities that can be created in an online learning environment.
In the fall semester of 2012, I had a student in my (online) Entrepreneurship course by the name of Peter Michael Whalen. Most important to this story, Peter is currently an active member of the National Guard and a committed serviceman to the United States. Peter received the honor of Nco of the quarter for Hancock Field ANG Base 3rd quarter 2013 and Nco of the Year for the Maintenance Group 2013. As I tell this story, I thought it also important to share that Peter and I, to this day, have NEVER met face-to-face.
Over the progression of the course, I recognized that Peter had a knack for entrepreneurship.
His business ideas were two of the best I’ve ever read; my first reaction was, “these are brilliant, and they have to be pitched at a Startup Weekend.”
From there, all through email communication, I introduced Peter to the world of Startup Weekend competitions. Within two weeks he participated in his first event.
Peter competed in Startup Weekend Binghamton, NY, the weekend of November 9, 2012; the concept he pitched at this event was “Tunegrow.” Imagine Farmville, but incorporate the real music industry. Instead of growing fictional crops, the outcome of players’ decisions would be actual “growth” of supported musicians careers. Peter’s pitch was accepted as a finalist, which is a GREAT accomplishment, but he did not place in the top 3 for the weekend. According to him, “it was just too big of a thing to explain in 3 minutes.”
From there, Peter was hooked, and pitched at Startup Weekend Syracuse, NY, the weekend of November 30, 2012. Peter’s next idea was an educational reality app for teenagers. Users would enter very basic college and career plans and a current picture of themselves. Using existing data the app would give them a view of what their future life would look like, a decade or two into the future and allow them to then adjust their plans and see what effect that will have. Peter is convinced that getting teens to see themselves in the future will be wildly disruptive. The competition was fierce and Peter’s idea was not accepted as a finalist for the event. Disappointed, yes; discouraged, absolutely not. Again, all communication via email, Peter and I re-focused his strategy through lessons learned to better prepare him for the next event.
The weekend of February 22, 2013, Peter pitched and competed in Startup Weekend Lancaster, PA. This weekend Peter pitched the idea of “CrowdMeister.” Crowdmeister can best be described as Kayak for crowdsourcing. Essentially, this business model is a one-stop shop for all markets of crowdsourcing; a completely disruptive concept; learn more about CrowdMeister here.
His pitch was accepted as a finalist and he went on to place 2nd for Startup Weekend Lancaster. Click here see footage from the event.
To follow this up, Peter pitched and competed in Startup Weekend Fairfield, CT, on the weekend of June 14, 2013. Different idea, different Startup Weekend, same results. This weekend, Peter pitched the concept of “Kaldit.” Again, Peter’s idea was accepted as a finalist and he went on to place 2nd for the entire event; you can learn more about “Kaldit” here. Peter’s second consecutive 2nd place finish did not go unnoticed by the investment community; immediately thereafter, Peter was approached by an investor to develop/launch the venture. “Kaldit” is now “Kalspot” and you can check out the beta here.
And, the story continues. Peter pitched and competed in Startup Weekend Syracuse, NY, on the weekend of November 15, 2013. Friday night, Peter’s idea was accepted as a finalist for the event receiving the second most votes for opening round pitches. From there, Peter’s team worked diligently throughout the weekend to launch the startup venture “Music Mashup Weekend.” Music Mashup Weekend is the Startup Weekend concept, only for musicians. I am VERY proud to say that Peter and his team WON Startup Weekend Syracuse, NY; Peter and his team received $2,500 for placing first and made several excellent connections. Check out “Music Mashup Weekend” by visiting their website.
2013 was a great year for Peter. 4 Startup Weekends. Each event a different proof of concept, each proof of concept receiving market validation.
I am passionate about the relationship I have with Peter beyond his success. The real merit to his story lies in his intent/interest in entrepreneurship. Peter is using entrepreneurship to facilitate the transformational change in his life from active duty to civilian life; and, this is an intentional strategy. When Peter has fulfilled his duty to our country, he has already created the opportunities that lie ahead for him. Entrepreneurship is his path and Startup Weekend is his vehicle.