Veterans tackle an unprecedented entrepreneurial training program during an unprecedented year
When one local paper wanted to announce the graduation of a cohort from NYU Tandon’s Veterans Entrepreneurship Training (VET) program in 2017, it trumpeted: There's a new breed of startups sprouting in Brooklyn. And get this — the founders aren’t computer geeks. Instead of spending their 20s gaming and building software, these entrepreneurs were busy serving our country and its interests on land, air and sea.”
That still holds true for the newest group to graduate from the program, which was launched to help military veterans (and their spouses) transition into civilian life as entrepreneurs. They had made it through an intensive 12-week program, Veterans Entrepreneurship Training I (VET-I), that introduced them to the customer discovery process, business planning, legal and accounting issues for startups, and much more, and their graduation ceremony, held virtually on December 16, attracted several high-level guests — including Assembly Members Joseph Lentol and Didi Barrett and New York City Commissioner of the Department of Veterans’ Services James Hendon — who celebrated their accomplishments.
Hendon, who before becoming Commissioner, graduated from VET and then served as the director of NYU Tandon’s Veterans Future Lab (VFL), an incubator aimed at nurturing veteran-owned businesses, had three pieces of advice: “Endure,” he said. “Success is not going to come in the form of a miracle; it takes the hard, repetitive work of testing, iterating, and pivoting when necessary. Next, you’ve already taken the first step of talking about your ideas and getting them out there, so don’t be afraid to keep taking steps. And don’t forget to be of service to other veterans who may want to follow in your footsteps.”
VFL Director Grant Fox also had the concept of service in mind. “You know how to serve; it’s in your DNA,” he told the graduates. “So use that DNA in the context of entrepreneurship. The more you serve your clients and customers, the further you will go.”
Because classes were held virtually, the program attracted veterans from all over the country, making for an especially diverse group with an array of diverse business ideas. They included:
- Katie Bishop, a Marine Corps vet working on a boutique coffee shop that will also serve as a place for community building and civic involvement.
- Glomani Bravo-Lopez, a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps, who’s leveraging his experience in the private sector, non-profit, government, and political arenas to help organizations navigate regulatory and bureaucratic waters, communicate with relevant stakeholders, and develop strategies to reach their goals.
- Tim Gavin, an Army vet building a nonprofit that pairs interactive, evidence-based online self-help with health workers.
- Shoun A. Hill, an Army veteran who is working on a greeting card company focused on diversity.
- Jose L. Nieves, an Army veteran who envisions a neighborhood, one-on-one, professional advisor in law and personal finances, staffed by veterans with a record of service.
- Natalie Oliverio, a former member of the Navy whose fittingly named matchmaking consultancy, Crush, seeks to help busy professionals recapture a sense of romance and fun.
- Joshua Poblano, a former Marine developing a cutting-edge investment app.
- George Rodriguez, a Navy vet with a licensed private investigations company, DA Forensics, that provides digital forensic services to attorneys and investigators in need of that technical help.
- Steven Rosa, a Navy veteran, and his wife, Aisulu Karpykova, who aim to meet the pent-up demand for high-quality, affordable, owned housing for New York City vets.
- Debbie Skeete-Bernard, an Air Force vet who seeks to launch a service that will provide trained liaisons between patients and doctors in order for increase understanding, compliance, and satisfaction.
- Ruhi White, a Navy vet developing an app that encourages first-generation American women in their careers by providing an online community that includes advice, support, and networking opportunities.
- Marlene Wilden, an Army military spouse whose venture, the Cannabis Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) would function as a full-service, data-driven research consultancy with a specialty focus on cannabis consumers.
- Sergey Zabarin, a former Marine whose service will provide mindfulness coaching and guided group meditations.
Applications for the next edition of VET-I are open till January 6, 2021.