New York’s Newest Veteran Entrepreneurs

Elana Duffy, founder of Pathfinder Labs, and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol are flanked by graduating VET participants

After World War II, the country saw a boom in the number of businesses started by veterans, with some sources estimating that half of all those returning home from military service launched their own enterprises. Now, explained Steve Kuyan, managing director at the NYU Tandon Future Labs, that figure stands at just slightly over five percent. “It isn’t that they don’t have the interest,” Kuyan said. “Surveys show that more than a third harbor entrepreneurial ambitions and our program is meant to bridge that divide between ambition and reality.”

Kuyan was referring to Tandon’s Veteran Entrepreneurship Training (VET) program, developed by the Future Labs with support from New York State Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, who was in attendance. Also in attendance was the Future Labs partner on the VET program, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, represented by Chamber President Andrew Hoan, who congratulated the fourth cohort of participants at their graduation.

Also congratulating the vets was Tandon’s Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan, who said, “The VET program may not fit the traditional mold of what an engineering school offers, but it touches me deeply to be involved in an initiative that’s doing so much good. Tandon believes very strongly that military veterans have exactly the fortitude needed to be successful entrepreneurs.”

The celebration included presentations by the vets, who enthusiastically pitched their new products and services to the audience. These included:

  • Yaalo, a mobile and Web platform that allows freelancers to avoid some of the pitfalls of traditional on-demand platforms;
  • VetPros, an online way to connect people in need of lawn care, graphic design, and myriad other tasks to former service people skilled in those areas;
  • Phoebe-Says, an inspirational organization aimed at encouraging underrepresented entrepreneurship;
  • Strength Bot, which provides personalized coaching to boxers and practitioners of other combat sports;
  • NYFresh, a fleet of trucks supplying healthy, fresh juices and smoothies in various locales; and
  • Lift and Shift Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at teaching wounded vets tech-based skills that will increase their employability.

Elana Duffy, an Army intelligence officer who founded Pathfinder Labs (a platform for peer-to-peer reviews and information sharing) when she was a member of the VET program’s first cohort, served as a commencement speaker of sorts. “I’m not here to tell you that now that you’ve finished the program, things will be easy,” she said. “Launching and running a business is hard, and you’ll probably still make mistakes, but every mistake is a chance to learn more.” 

Peter Fusco, a lawyer from the international firm Orrick, partner of the Future Labs, who provides pro bono services to program participants and is himself a vet, also spoke and made plain that “hard” would never dissuade someone who had served in the military. “What other people think of as hard work, we think of as just the beginning of the job,” he said.