Vetting the best cities for veteran entrepreneurs

The Veterans Future Lab helps propel NYC to the top of the list

New York City ariel view

Anyone who has seen NYU Tandon’s Veterans Future Lab (VFL) in action knows that it provides a dynamic, supportive, enriching ecosystem for military veterans and their spouses in the early stages of launching their businesses. From its intensive Veterans Entrepreneurship Training Program to Apex, an impactful one-year incubator, the VFL is ensuring that military veterans and their families can be successful members of the Innovation Economy.

It’s little surprise that it’s part of the resources that have landed the New York metro area in the number-one spot on the list of the nation’s best for veteran entrepreneurship. The list was released by the PenFed Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to empower service members, veterans, and their communities with the skills and resources to seize opportunity and achieve financial stability. To rank the cities, the Foundation drew upon a robust set of quantitative data to paint a detailed picture of

  • the city itself (its green spaces, cultural resources, and schools, for example)
  • its economy (whether new jobs were being created and businesses being launched)
  • its suitability as a place to do business (survival rate, the availability of an educated workforce)and the level of general support it provides to veterans (VA medical care expenditures, number of student veterans on the GI Bill)

The data was drawn from government agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Census information, private foundations, the Veterans Administration, the National Association of Veteran Serving Organizations, and other such reputable sources.  The dataset was treated with an eye to eliminating any biases and to account for differences in the sources, and when the factors were weighed, New York was far and away the winner, scoring several points higher than Chicago, its nearest competitor. On October 13, at a virtual awards ceremony, the honor was announced by PenFed Foundation President General John W. “Mick” Nicholson, Jr., a retired US Army four-star general who was the longest-serving commander of US forces in Afghanistan and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, and Director of Outreach David Clark, retired Command Sergeant Major. On hand to accept the award on behalf of NYC’s veterans was James Hendon, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Veterans' Services.

While he was there in his official government capacity, Commissioner Hendon — who served as the director of the VFL before assuming his current post — explained that his connection to NYU Tandon was a key factor, since the school launched New York's first business incubator for military veterans, and the first dedicated, fully staffed incubator anywhere in the country that provides veterans, irrespective of other affiliations, high- touch mentoring and service. “One of the strongest lights throughout New York City’s luminous entrepreneurial ecosystem as it pertains to Service Members, past and present, and those close to them is NYU Tandon’s Veterans Future Lab,” he asserted. “It is only fitting that Tandon and VFL leadership were present as we received this award.  Working in concert with others, Tandon’s VFL opens a doorway to New York City’s broader innovation ecosystem, a gate through which increasingly more of our Veterans are entering.”

The VFL is determined to bring some of these resources and advantages that NYC has to offer to veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs around the country. Its highly selective Apex program, a one-year incubator for early-stage ventures led by veterans and military spouses, offers free shared housing to select qualifying founders who must relocate to New York City to participate in the program. In these unprecedented times, Apex is currently running virtual programming for its 17 founders, several of whom are out of state. The popular Veterans Entrepreneurship Training (VET) program, a months-long skills-focused class for early entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs, has for the first time been held virtually, allowing for 25% of its cohort to participate from out of state. “Our goal is the empowerment of veteran entrepreneurs,” says Grant Fox, Director of the VFL. “We are working tirelessly to make sure that our community around the country can access the best of NYU and NYC, regardless of their location, to build and grow sustainable, successful businesses.”