The 2021 Veterans Future Lab Summit provided insight and advice

The 2021 Veterans Future Lab (VFL) Summit offered a chance to network with entrepreneurs, top-tier investors, and industry leaders, as well as to participate in a variety of hands-on workshops and hear about the VFL’s first-ever research study.

Moderated by VFL Director Alexa Modero, the event opened with a welcome from NYU Tandon’s Dean, Jelena Kovačević, who made plain just what a group effort the VFL entails in giving her list of thanks: “first and foremost [to] our founders, who have served their country so selflessly. Thank you for allowing us to do our part in serving you and nurturing your talents. Thank you, as well, to the savvy investors who know that our military veterans have all the grit, perseverance, and management skills necessary to be entrepreneurs. Thank you to the elected officials like Governor Kathy Hochul — who joined us to cut the ribbon on the VFL, and New York State Assemblymember Didi Barrett who have championed us; the industry experts from companies like Verizon and Goodwin who have provided guidance; the many organizations, including the U.S. Small Business Administration and Empire State Development, who have supported us; and, of course, to everyone at Barclays, which we are proud to call our founding sponsor.”

James Hendon, the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Veterans' Services (and a former director of the VFL) gave a keynote address, describing his entrepreneurial journey and advising listeners that entrepreneurship is a two-sided coin: both emotional (calling upon passion and resilience) and intellectual (requiring technical and business savvy).

“The best asset you have is the people to your left and right,” he asserted.

Other pithy takeaways from the day included:

Michael Frye, a director of the Fors Marsh Group, who unveiled the sometimes-surprising results of the research study “The Veteran Journey to Entrepreneurship.” 

If I could boil this down to a snappy headline, it would be this: Veterans are built for entrepreneurship, but the services they receive matter."


Sherman Gillums, Jr., the chief strategy & operations officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who conducted a workshop on advocating for marginalized groups

Become a fixture in your community… Make sure you’re as invested in your community’s success as in your own success.

Fight for others as if your own fate depended on it. 

We can’t do mission-based work effectively unless we are comfortable with being uncomfortable."


Ingrid Thorp, Chair of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at NYC SHRM, whose workshop stressed the importance of considering DEI right from the start

Diversity has been proven to be the most incredible investment for producing productive teams, producing higher productivity, and everyone can be part of that."

Alicia Hanf, the founder of the Dear Mama Fund, who led a workshop on winning your first customer

If we understand that 80% of our business is coming from 20% of our customers, why not really build the strongest relationship we can with that 20%, have them as our biggest evangelists, and then make sure that no matter what, they are feeling seen and heard."


Devin Sizer, director of nonprofit strategy at Bunker Labs, who discussed time-tested, innovative, and effective strategies to raise money for a nonprofit

Telling those human stories [about] how we supported someone: those are compelling and help make potential individual donors connect with our work.

Keep in mind that even relationships that start with small gifts can grow into larger, meaningful partnerships."


Dave Anderson, senior equity analyst at Barclays, who outlined the traits of a successful company from the perspective of a Wall Street analyst

It’s important to establish a company culture and to represent yourself well externally, such as through your website."


Shaydi DeJesus, venture strategy partner at Gitty, who advised founders on pitching to raise capital

People love ingenuity, but they also love making money. You have to make sure you will be able to get traction."