5 Questions with Dave Cass, Veteran Entrepreneur

November 11th, 2020


I was born in Boston and grew up in a small town outside the city. My career doesn't make sense on paper, which is why I like it, but if you follow the progression you can see that the core values are present throughout and have been my guide (whether I knew it or not).  

I am a career changer; my first post-college career was serving in the Navy. I was an officer by profession and an aviator by trade. I flew SH-60 helicopters ("Seahawks") and held a variety of operational roles. After two long deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (and the birth of my first daughter), I decided a career change was in order. I had written a book about veterans transitioning to academia and was teaching at CU when I became a believer that technology was necessary to implement and scale mentorship programs for military veterans nationwide. After having an igniting experience at Patriot Boot Camp, connecting with incredible mentors (including David Cohen, thank you, PBC!), I started a company called Uvize. Uvize was a matching and management platform for mentorship-driven education programs. We went through Techstars-Kaplan in 2013. After a series of successes and failures, Uvize was acquired by Sondermind, an amazing company that adapted the platform for use in the mental health field and is making a powerful impact on the world. After the acquisition, I narrowed my career path into two choices: 1) Start another company or 2) Work for Techstars, who I felt especially grateful to for the impact on my life and career. I decided working for Techstars was the best place to make the impact I desired. The problem was, Techstars didn't know about my plan to work for them — so I told them, asked them, maybe there was begging, maybe there wasn't, and here I am on the awesome business development team at Techstars. I'm proud to work for an organization where I feel such a strong mission and values alignment and am continuously inspired by the team. 

01. What's one lesson you would share with your younger self?

I would tell myself to worry less about failure. Failure, obstacles, and adversity hold the best life lessons. As FDR once said, “Calm seas have never made a skilled sailor.” Now that I'm on the wrong side of 40, I know with certainty I regret the things I didn't try significantly more than things I tried and failed at. I also would tell myself to enjoy that gorgeous full head of hair — nothing lasts forever.

02. What exceptional person has made a difference in your life — and how?

My grandfather was one of the most impactful people in my life. He was a Navy doctor who served during WWII and I asked him once why he decided to serve in the Navy and he said, “that's just what you did.” I can't imagine his generation complaining about wearing masks or having to stay home. He taught me the value of service and the power of laughter, he made me laugh all the time.

03. What advice would you give to other founders who share your situation or background?

I mentor in a variety of veterans programs — almost all veterans must change careers at some point, and we often feel very behind the curve when we do (I know I did/do). The two pieces of advice I share are: 1) Don't be afraid to ask for help and 2) “Give Second.”  The two pieces are connected in that veterans often do not like asking for help; I think as a group, we far prefer to be the ones who are called upon to help. And “give second” means, go ahead and accept the help and if you feel bad about asking for help, just make the commitment right now to support those making the same transition after you. P.S. #givesecond is not catching on at Techstars!

04. What drives you?

When I started at Techstars I did some training with the sales team and we did an exercise that assessed our personal values. My top values were family, service, impact, integrity, team, and adventure. These values are what drive me every day, in fact, these are what drove me to Techstars, the mission of the company, the team (what a team!), the impact of entrepreneurship, and a culture of integrity — great values alignment. Any time I am seeking “drive,” I return to those values. 

05. How do you Give First?

I am a #GiveFirst and #GiveSecond believer and do my best to apply my values to all my interactions with family, team, and friends. From a community standpoint, I chose to spend my time in education-focused organizations whether it be teaching at U of Colorado, Boulder or volunteering as a mentor or teacher in Patriot Boot Camp, Salute Colorado, and/or Defy Colorado. I believe talent comes from all communities but that opportunities are not equitable amongst those communities. If a community is underserved, education can be the great equalizer and I like to support organizations that share that value. 

Patriot Boot Camp has been on a mission to assemble and activate an inclusive community that advances military members, veterans, military spouses in their mission to become creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs leading the new economy. Learn more about their programs.

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