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Todd Connor

CEO and Founder of Bunker Labs

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A Characterization of the Veteran Entrepreneur

May 16, 2016

Veterans want to either launch companies or excel within high-growth startups upon transitioning from military service.

In this article, my colleague, Harry Alfond, outlines the need for a supportive community for veteran entrepreneurs

I listened to a nice podcast this week from a16z — “Teams, Trust, and Object Lessons.” Ben Horowitz, General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, spoke with Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, on why veterans make good hires due to their military experience. This took place before a group of 25 veterans who participated in the Breakline education and hiring program for veterans shifting into careers in the tech industry.

Horowitz stated that there’s a true need for people who have systems thinking and organizational leadership. Horowitz touches on the notion that there is no real leadership training in college, or MBA programs for that matter, but with regards to the military, leadership is a fundamental part of the experience, which is very beneficial. To have people come in with an orientation around leadership is powerful especially when combined with technical training. Applying leadership training into startups is an innate quality that many veteran entrepreneurs rarely second-guess.

Veterans want to either launch companies or excel within high-growth startups upon transitioning from military service. It’s always happened, although it hasn’t been particularly visible. After World War II, 49% of veterans went on to start and own their own businesses, according to the Kauffman Foundation. I’ve recently connected with a 20-something year-old entrepreneur who happened to be a Captain in the Marine Corps and has a flourishing chain of coffee shops. Another entrepreneur, after a 30-year career as a Marine, started a consulting firm that specializes in startups — many of which are veteran owned. There are many success stories across a variety of demographics, skill sets and industries, but I wonder about how many veteran-led startups and entrepreneurs never even got the chance to start.

Veterans have exhibited strong interest in entrepreneurship, but lack a community to help them realize their entrepreneurial ambitions. It’s imperative that every person who served in the military has the community, the requisite network, and the resources to realize their full entrepreneurial potential. According to the Kauffman Foundation, 25% of active service members state that they want to start their own businesses. However, only 6% will actually start their own businesses. There are three main factors posing significant challenges:

  • Non-existence of civilian networks
  • Lack of access to professional networks
  • Better relationships with mentors needed

Strong veteran communities focused on entrepreneurship must be developed. This has been the mission of Bunker Labs. We are fortunate to have such supportive partners that also see the need to inspire, educate and connect. However, we’re calling on the broader entrepreneurial business ecosystem to take notice. This should be a point of emphasis across all VCs (and portfolio companies), not just Andreessen Horowitz.

Veterans are our greatest national human asset and it’s time to catalyze the entrepreneurial potential of the military experience to lead innovation in the American economy.

This article was originally published on the Bunker Labs Blog.

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