Meet Veterans Future Lab Director Grant Fox
When Grant Fox got off the bus in Great Lakes, Illinois, he stepped into a scene of controlled chaos. “There was a lot of yelling and pointing,” he recalled. Within a few hours of settling in at Naval Station Great Lakes (NSGL), the U.S. Navy’s largest training installation and home of the branch’s only bootcamp, he was surprised to find himself being singled out as leadership material. “I’m actually not sure why,” he says now, more than two decades later. “In 1996, when I arrived at boot camp, I was fresh out of high school, and while I was eager to serve, I don’t think there was anything that special about me.”
Fox learned that this was the military way: jump into the role you’re assigned and work hard to prove yourself. He did just that for the next seven years, serving as an Intelligence and Secure Communications and Cryptography division lead. Assigned variously to aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, he led 30-person teams during joint U.S. military and NATO operations during the short-lived Kosovo War and also deployed to Iraq during Operation Southern Watch, helping enforce a no-fly zone.
In 2003, facing the decision to sign on for another tour or pursue his other interests, Fox made the difficult choice to finally start earning a college degree. “I had always been fascinated by business,” he says, “so while I’ll always be grateful to the Navy for everything I learned there, including the ability to collaborate in large, diverse groups of people with varying skills and backgrounds, it seemed like the right time to explore forging a non-military career.”
In 2005 he earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from California State University in Sacramento, and subsequently joined an investment firm as a research associate. “That took some wrangling on my part,” he recalls. “This firm drew new hires mainly from the Ivy League, which I certainly did not belong to, but I had been president of the student investment club at my university, and I used that as a networking tool. I wasn’t in the position of having a comfortable job just waiting for me, so I had to make my own opportunities.”
Fox focused on the energy sector, an area that allowed him to connect the dots between the geopolitical issues he had examined as a member of the Navy’s intelligence community. “I was fascinated by Eastern Europe and Russia, and I knew being involved in the energy space would be a conduit to learning more,” he explains. In 2008 he relocated to the East Coast to serve as head of finance for New Jersey-based Liberty Natural Gas, but after taking on a few other high-level posts in the Wall Street world, he decided to strike out on his own. In 2015 he launched Tesseractive, an enterprise that allowed him to use his years of experience to provide finance, strategy, and operations advice to early-stage companies.
Fox, who in 2011 had earned a master’s degree in energy and environment policy at NYU, also had time to volunteer now that he was running his own company, and among the places eager for his help was the Veterans Future Lab (VFL), an NYU Tandon incubator (part of the Future Labs, launched in 2009) that opened in late 2017 solely for ventures launched by U.S. military veterans, veterans’ spouses, and others affiliated with the Department of Defense. When James Hendon, the VFL’s former director, left to accept a post as Commissioner of the New York City Department of Veterans' Services, Fox was the natural choice to step into his shoes, given his military background, business experience, and track record in helping startups get off the ground.
He took over at a challenging time — in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which he has also served as co-lead of NYU’s COVID-19 Task Force — but says that there are enormous advantages to operating remotely. “We’ve got a cohort of 20 participants in our 12-week Veterans Entrepreneurship Training program, and because they don’t have to physically be in Brooklyn, we were able to accept veterans from all over the country,” he explains. “Apex, a one-year, no-cost program that provides mentorship, support, and resources to new companies, is also going well, with founders joining us from several different states.”
Fox, who also teaches NYU courses in International Energy Finance and Clean Energy Entrepreneurship, has a distinct vision for the VFL. “I want to increase awareness of who we are and what we do,” he says, “When anyone thinks of military veterans and entrepreneurship, I want them to think of NYU Tandon.”