Veteran Entrepreneurs Bring Their Skills to the Civilian World

The Third Cohort of Graduates from Tandon’s VET Program Delve into the Disparate Worlds of Film Production, Nutritional Supplements, Traffic Safety, Water Testing Devices, and even Garbage Bags

Veteran Entrepreneurs group photo

When Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan spoke at the graduation ceremony honoring the latest group of military veterans to complete entrepreneurship training at Tandon’s Future Labs, he admitted that no one had ever envisioned what a success the program, now in its third season, would be. “It’s in large part because of the vision of State Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, who has supported the Veteran Entrepreneurship Training program from the beginning, and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, which has also lent its steadfast backing, that we are celebrating today,” Sreenivasan said. “With this third cohort of graduates, more than 40 veterans have graduated the program, and we look forward to watching that number increase.”

Steve Kuyan, the managing director of the Data and Digital Future Labs, explained that while it was easy to count up the graduates of the program, it was harder to measure the exact magnitude of its impact. “As they grow, veteran-owned businesses are often committed to hiring other veterans,” he said. “So the program has an even greater effect on the veteran-entrepreneurship ecosystem than it first appears.”

Other luminaries in attendance at the graduation included Edward Baker, who represented Assemblyman Lentol’s office; Andrew Hoan of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, who awarded each graduate a one-year membership in the organization; and Chris Shaw, himself a VET program graduate who now heads the initiative. The undisputed stars of the day were, however, the grads, who expertly pitched their products and services to the audience, explaining that the teamwork, discipline, and efficiency they learned as service members deeply informed the ethos of their companies.

The founders of Tomahawk Pictures, a video production company, for example, noted that the industry was plagued by big egos, a lack of cooperation, and disregard for deadlines. With only seasoned military veterans on staff, however, Tomahawk can deliver creative projects ahead of schedule and, importantly, under budget.

Another graduate, Powder Keg Club (whose motto is “Train Hard, Supplement Easy”), also addresses an inefficiency: the need for serious exercisers to measure out and mix multiple nutritional supplements each day. Those who sign up for the service receive a month’s worth of pre-measured daily supplements that save time, money and aggravation. Efficiency was also the guiding principle behind BagUps, a biodegradable trash bag that pops up from a dispenser when the previous bag is filled and removed. While handy in a home setting, the enormous potential for BagUps comes in hospitals, schools and other institutions. Saving even just seconds per bag can mean thousands of man hours per year.

Inefficiencies can be life-threatening in the case of a serious accident, the founders of Buddy Aid explained, so their IoT-connected device (mounted on a vehicle or driver) senses when a crash occurs and immediately alerts first responders and chosen family members, eliminating the confusion and delay that often accompany such events. IoT also figured into the design of another vet-developed project showcased at the graduation, the Integrated Heath Technologies water bottle, which tests for and filters harmful toxins while giving “before and after” data for peace of mind.

Ben Williams, a Navy vet and co-founder of the tech company Reelio, gave a keynote address at the graduation and explained that he had no doubt that the recent graduates had what it took to make their ventures successful. “Situations change without warning in the military — particularly in combat situations — so you learn to quickly adapt,” he said. “The same goes for the start-up world. Similarly, the path will not be perfectly set forth sometimes, in both civilian entrepreneurial life and military life, and in those cases, you learn to seek out the expertise you need to take your next steps. You just keep your eyes on the horizon ahead of you.”