Meet Alexa Modero, the new head of NYU Tandon’s Veterans Future Lab
The Veterans Future Lab (VFL) is an NYU Tandon incubator that opened in 2017 solely for ventures launched by U.S. military veterans, veterans’ spouses, and others affiliated with the Department of Defense.
Located in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, it is home to an ambitious roster of initiatives, including the Veterans Entrepreneurship Training (VET) programs, free 12-week series of classes aimed at giving aspiring founders the knowledge and skills they need to launch civilian enterprises, and APEX, a nine-month incubation program that provides mentorship, support, and all the resources needed to start and grow a company.
This fall, the VFL got a new director, Alexa Modero — a seasoned entrepreneur and the fiancée of a Marine Corps veteran. Learn more about her, her philanthropic activities, and her path to Sunset Park below. (And for a chance to hear from her firsthand and explore the veterans' entrepreneurial ecosystem further, plan to attend the 2021 VFL Summit, being held virtually on December 8. You can register, at no cost, here.)
Q: Is it true that you began your career in the field of retail fashion, which seems very different from what you’re doing now?
A: I graduated from the University of Rhode Island in 2014 with a degree in public relations and began working for a great company called Sam Edelman, where I remained for almost four years, overseeing inventory and supporting the launch of new retail locations all over the country. I loved it, but there were other things going on in my life that eventually took precedence.
Q: Can you describe those things?
A: In college, I met the man who is now my fiancé, Brett D’Alessandro, and when he joined the Marines and volunteered to go to Afghanistan, I wanted to be as supportive as possible. I’ll never really understand everything he went through, but he was a machine gunner in a combat battalion, and their trucks regularly attracted improvised explosive devices, so I knew his deployment was a difficult one.
When he returned to civilian life, there was a rough adjustment period, and I tried as best I could to help him find the resources he needed. One day, he passed a homeless veteran on the side of the road and stopped to help. He had his old military backpack in the car filled with socks, T-shirts, and a few other items, and he gave it to the man, who was very grateful to get it. That gave us the idea to start an organization, Backpacks for Life. I ultimately quit my corporate job to help run the group full time.
Q: What does Backpacks for Life do?
A: We partner with shelters and veterans’ groups to distribute backpacks of supplies to homeless veterans who might have very little else. They’re filled with useful things like full-size toiletries, flashlights, reusable water bottles, and waterproof ponchos. They’re not ordinary backpacks either; we listened to users’ concerns about their belongings getting stolen on the street or the packs not being able to withstand harsh conditions, and we patented our own model. It’s made of really durable material and has a fold-out sleeping mat, a locking cable, an attached distress whistle, and other features. The main thing, however, is that we also include lists of resources for jobs, housing, training, and whatever else they might need to transition more successfully to civilian life. Besides their very practical, tangible purposes, the backpacks serve as a symbol of hope and a sign that no veteran is alone on their path. At this point, we’ve distributed nearly 9,000 backpacks.
Q: How did you get involved in the VFL?
A: The veterans’ entrepreneurship community is relatively small and tight-knit, and one day I was invited to give a talk at the VFL about my own experiences. That developed into an invitation to be a lead instructor in the VET programs, and I discovered that I loved brainstorming with potential founders about their start-up ideas and providing them with business guidance. In October 2021, I became the new director.
Q: I understand you have an exciting event planned.
A: Yes Our 2021 VFL Summit is being held virtually on December 8. You'll get to meet industry leaders, entrepreneurs, and top investors; engage in hands-on workshops, and learn more about the journey veteran entrepreneurs face today. I like to think of it as the must-attend veterans' event of the year, and you can register, at no cost, here.
Q: What are your plans for the VFL moving forward?
A: There are already great initiatives in place, so we’ll certainly keep them going. I’m particularly excited by how involved our military spouses get, whether that’s having their own desire to launch a start-up or supporting their spouse’s ventures, so it will be interesting to see how we can encourage that further.
Q: Soon you’ll be a military spouse yourself.
A: Yes, Brett and I plan to be married in October 2022, in Rhode Island, back where it all started. He’ll probably be wearing his Marine uniform, and we hope that a military chaplain will conduct the ceremony. I’m very proud of his time in the Corps and proud that I can be of service to vets like him as they build fulfilling civilian lives.