Perfect for Entrepreneurship: Engaging Veterans in Innovation

Our nation’s veterans bring a unique set of skills and traits that can be leveraged when it comes to building startup companies. Simultaneously, veterans are looking to accomplish big goals and positively impact their communities and the world. For these reasons, reaching out to our veterans to find tomorrow’s entrepreneurs isn’t just community outreach - it makes good business sense too.

Veterans are mission-oriented and risk-tolerant. They know how to think strategically and execute a tactical plan that is consistent with strategy. Most don’t know what a 40-hour work week is anyway so they aren’t conditioned to stop at “quitting time.” Our veterans have values of integrity and commitment that have been forged into them. They know exactly what a high-performance team looks like - most even have experience building and leading such teams.

Veterans face challenges when transitioning to civilian life that entrepreneurship can help solve. If their potential isn’t captured, our society runs the risk of losing that veteran’s potential as they go through the challenges of transitioning. Unfortunately, too many veterans enter a downward spiral after being discharged because they can’t find work that is values their skills and their desire to have impact on outcomes.

Reintegration to civilian work life can be unrewarding and even disorienting. Veterans are used to being responsible for consequential matters that affect mission success and even the survival of their teammates. There is simply no lateral transition to a role in the private sector that can compare. Retired senior enlisted veterans don’t get to transition to VP of anything - and are often lucky to find a employment that values their skills at all. Entrepreneurship is a great solution to fulfill our veterans’ desire and potential.

As a veteran myself, these issues are important to me personally. I want to see my fellow veterans succeed and I know their potential first hand.  In our recent VC FinTech Accelerator one veteran startup founder noticeably outperformed his peers in nearly every category. The mission-first attitude he brought to his early-stage company everyday is one that I had seen many times before during my 11-years on active duty. It didn’t take much to convince my new teammates at The Venture Center that we should be making more efforts to uncover this type of talent. That’s when Lee Watson, President of The Venture Center, asked me to start reaching out and getting more veterans involved.

We began with integrating into local veteran organizations and setting meetings with veterans and stakeholders in the community to inform them about our initiative to recruit veterans. In July, we participated with the SBA by instructing during a Boots to Business seminar at a local military base. It was my goal during the seminar to show these transitioning service-members what was possible, because I knew that the first step would be to open their minds. Most in attendance were thinking in terms of traditional small business. By the end of my presentation, many began to think in terms of scale. We had just introduced them to a world of possibilities they didn’t even know existed and that began to remove their mental barriers.

In October, we are pleased to be hosting a Veteran - Entrepreneur Edition of our Catalyst Mixer. By getting entrepreneurs and veterans in the room together, we hope to spark some “creative collisions” that will lead to future successes. Going forward, The Venture Center will continue to build relationships around the region to seek this incredible source of talent to help build Arkansas’ next generation of great companies.

By integrating veterans into our existing programs like the Accelerator and Pre-Accelerator, we will create an environment where our veterans and their non-veteran counterparts can leverage each other's experience and skills to create some awesome companies together.