Veterans – Engage in The Resurgence of Entrepreneurship in The United States
- Brenden Rodriguez
There is one institution that has, by far, produced more entrepreneurs than any other.
It has a long-held reputation for teaching strategic planning, leadership, problem-solving skills, and unrelenting determination.
It’s not Stanford, Yale, MIT, or Harvard…
As the headline suggests, that institution is the United States military.
When you look at the numbers, it’s clear that military veterans become entrepreneurs at a much higher rate than non-veterans. According to a study from Syracuse University, 49 percent of World War II veterans went on to own or operate their own businesses.
When you look at the principal attributes of a veteran, you might as well be reading a “how-to” manual on how to assemble an entrepreneur.
Among those attributes are the following:
- Leadership skills
- Loyalty and integrity
- A strong tradition of small high-functioning “teams”
- Learning as a life-long process
- Composure and the ability to not only deal with stress but to use it to sharpen focus
- The intestinal fortitude to set high standards for oneself and the discipline to make them a reality
Most importantly, an entrepreneur must be collaborative.
When we think of innovators and entrepreneurs, it’s easy to fall for the stereotypical, romantic image of a brilliant inventor, tinkering alone in their garage. The reality is very much the opposite. Success in business very often pivots on an entrepreneur’s ability to develop layers of relationships that support, inspire and ultimately help them gain the traction necessary to take the next step in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Service in the military is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Which branch did you serve in? Did you deploy overseas and fight in a war or serve in a time of relative peace? Were you enlisted or an officer? Combat arms or support? Even though these veterans might have had very different experiences while in the military, entrepreneurship gives them the refreshing opportunity to start their civilian life with the most level playing field possible.
Phoenix Spark Innovation cell & DoD Mentorship
One of the many great things about my association with Bunker Labs and WeWork’s Veteran in Residence program is that you are surrounded by people who have been exposed to a culture of comradery that only the military can provide. I hope to encourage veterans to find ways to assist each other and continually carry that mindset forward into their individual entrepreneurial endeavors.
For those in the military, the stakes are as high as they get. By comparison, many of the challenges of entrepreneurship, though often thrilling, feel very comfortable for those warfighters in the military that have operated under consistently pressure-filled conditions. Soldiers become comfortable with the stress of war and when they leave the military, there is nowhere to channel that energy. For many, that vacuum can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices. It was at that point that I turned to become a design practitioner with a passion for entrepreneurship.
It might manifest itself in the willingness to have difficult conversations with your teammates, value diverse opinions or seamlessly share responsibilities, but developing results-driven relationships is second nature for a veteran.
Initiative and Entrepreneurship
I’ve been solving problems my whole life. My military experience is so central to who I am now that it’s sometimes difficult to think back to a time when that wasn’t part of my identity.
I’ve always had a passion for exploring the limits of my potential, regardless of the activity I was engaged in. At the same time, I sought to establish a supportive, overlying structure, through training, expert and scholarly advice or the partnership of a like-minded team.
As a graduate of California College of the Arts in San Francisco, I’m reminded of a saying by one of my professors, “There is no such thing as a simple object, just a simple way to look at an object.” A veteran has this uncanny ability to look at a situation with a different perspective given the unique military experience they were exposed to emotionally and culturally. We look at problems as obstacles that afford their own set of constraints that might evoke unpredictable and interesting solutions.
Collaboration and Entrepreneurship
One of a veteran’s many abilities is to be able to diagnose and problem-solve difficult situations while under long periods of stress without any guarantee of a desirable outcome. Whether it’s a classically trained musician, a soldier or an entrepreneur, the secret is the baked-in ability to precisely follow a plan, endure difficulty, trust your training, and innovate as necessary.
This ability translates well to entrepreneurial endeavors because there is no guarantee the effort spent on any given task will make a meaningful impact on your business. What there is instead, is the confidence that the knowledge, training and supporting infrastructure allows the entrepreneur to be confident in the local, granular details while also having the confidence, grit, and clarity to step back and see the big picture.
That is where entrepreneurs and veterans are so very similar. What is guaranteed from both paths is that the character derived from the trials and tribulations can, depending on the situation, either make a mission successful or provide the insight required to bring a new product or service to the market.
When it comes to the world of business and entrepreneurship, a veteran already has a head start. They’ve been living and breathing this life without knowing it. Since I transitioned out of the military in 2006, I’ve been using these skills and translating them into business endeavors, ultimately scaling up the level of entrepreneurship within the veteran community. I have walked this path and by sharing my military and entrepreneurial origin story in this and future blog posts, I hope to demonstrate a way for veterans to do the same.
By using their valuable skill-sets, Veterans can help reverse the declining trends of veteran entrepreneurship as well as contribute greatly to the resurgence of entrepreneurship in the United States.
Through my work with the Phoenix Spark Innovation cell at Travis Airforce Base, a cohort member of Bunker Labs & WeWork’s Veteran in Resident Program I have discovered now more than ever, how entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship are currently thriving in the US military!
Veterans are in a unique position to help jump-start entrepreneurship in the United States. They’ve been developing the skills necessary since the first days of basic training. Veterans have always had college, civilian government jobs, trade jobs or private security contracting jobs overseas as options. Increasingly, entrepreneurship represents a powerful financial opportunity for military men and women that are transitioning into the civilian world.
My goal is to help redeploy them; helping them in supporting their country as well as making a very personal financial pivot that could lead to a new and exciting chapter in their post-military lives.