Tech stars

Since 2007, Techstars has helped fledgling entrepreneurs in the tech industry find startup capital, as well as making networking and mentoring contacts that have catapulted these companies to success. Now, through a program called Patriot Boot Camp, Techstars is helping Veteran entrepreneurs realize their dreams of creating their own successful tech companies.

Patriot Boot Camp is a three day program that offers educational information and the ability to make invaluable business mentors and networking contacts to 50-75 Veteran entrepreneurs and military spouses each session. Leaders of Patriot Boot Camp like to think of the program as a bridge that allows access for Veterans to enter the tech entrepreneur community.

The stated mission of Techstar’s Patriot Boot Camp is to give Veteran entrepreneurs and their spouses the tools and resources they need to be successful entrepreneurs, and help them build companies of scale and impact. Their mission is based on four fundamental beliefs:

  • Veterans possess skills and experience that make them successful entrepreneurs
  • Empowering Veterans and military spouses to start their own companies will help them become the commanders of their own financial security
  • Providing opportunities for Veteran entrepreneurs will help solve Veteran unemployment, because they typically hire other Veterans
  • Veteran owned businesses will be at the vanguard of economic growth in the United States

This year’s Patriot Boot Camp will be held May 16-18, 2014, at the Goldman Sachs building in New York City. The tentative schedule of events for the program is as follows:

Day 1: Basic entrepreneurial education on conceptualizing, creating and building upon your own successful tech business.

Day 2: Patriot Boot Camp provides its participants with more than 50 well-established mentors who offer one-on-one mentoring sessions. These sessions are invaluable to Veteran entrepreneurs who are new to the tech industry. At past boot camps, these mentors have included such high profile industry players as Union Square Ventures co-founder Fred Wilson; former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army Gen. George Casey Jr.; Founder and CEO of Buzzcar Robin Chase; and Techstars co-founder David Brown.

Day 3: Special Pitch Competition that pits idea-stage entrepreneurs against owners of established companies in a friendly competition that teaches participants the benefits of creating an effective pitch.

The program is always free to Veterans, active duty military and military spouses, and includes a continental breakfast and lunch for each day. Techstars provides the program as a thank you to Veterans for their service and as a means of recognizing their value and potential as entrepreneurs. However, dinner meals, travel arrangements and hotel accommodations are covered by the participants at their own expense.

Some of the previous participants have gone on to create and expand such companies as Uvize, Wedding Worthy, Hyprloco and the Travelst.

But one of the best things about the program is that Veteran entrepreneurs aren’t required to own a business in order to participate in Patriot Boot Camp; companies can still be in the conceptual stage.

VAMBOA sees the Patriot Boot Camp as a great opportunity for Veterans who have just recently started or are looking to start their own tech company. The resources, including information, access to mentors and networking contacts can help boost and benefit any young company.

Participants in Patriot Boot Camp are not automatically eligible for other Techstars programs. For more information about Techstars, visit their site at www.techstars.com

For more information about Patriot Boot Camp, visit www.techstars.com/patriotbootcamp.

VAMBOA storm

Leadership can be found at the core of every Veteran. Any service member who completed any length of enlistment has followed the orders of their superiors, and most have had some experience in a leadership role. Starting as low as E-4 on the rank hierarchy, many Veterans saw responsibility in extreme situations, that could have a major impact on the lives of their subordinates. Because of this type of experience, Veterans don’t shy away from the ultimate civilian leadership role of owning a business and being responsible for the livelihoods of their employees.

Possibly due to their military leadership experiences, Veterans are taking on the challenges of business ownership en masse. According to the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA)’s Office of Advocacy March 2012 report, there are nearly two and a half million Veteran owned businesses in the U.S. Veteran owned businesses make up nearly 10% of all businesses nation-wide.  They also employ close to six million people, including fellow Veterans.

For a company to be considered “Veteran owned,” a Veteran must maintain at least 51% of the business’ ownership. The federal government, as well as state and local governments, make special provisions that protect Veteran owned businesses. They do so by setting aside government contracts specifically for Veteran businesses. Additionally, an increasing number of Fortune 500 companies have also made pledges to sub-contract with Veteran owned companies.

Studies have shown that 70% of American consumers would prefer to frequent Veteran owned businesses. The proof is in the dollars. Veteran owned businesses account for almost $1.25 trillion in sales receipts each year. Veteran small businesses make up 78.1% of small businesses, with yearly sales of $100,000 or more.

Veterans and service-disabled Veterans who are interested in starting their own companies, or expanding their existing businesses are encouraged to seek membership in the Veteran And Military Business Owners Association (VAMBOA). VAMBOA offers its members contract opportunities and networking contacts with large corporations. Membership is free.

tibbetts

Since 1998, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has awarded the Tibbetts Award to small businesses and individuals who have exemplify the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. And since 2011, the SBA has inducted previous awardees who have exhibited long-term success in research, innovation and commercialization within the SBIR program into the SBIR Hall of Fame.

The Tibbetts Award is named for Roland Tibbetts, founder of the SBIR program. There are two types of Tibbetts Awards; one is presented to businesses who have participated in the SBIR or SSTTR programs, and the other award is presented to individuals who have not received assistance from, but who have supported, SBIR and STTR programs. The awards are presented to companies and individuals who promote the mission and goals of the SBIR and STTR programs.

Tibbetts Award winners are chosen based on the economic impact of their technological innovation, and on whether they have met federal research and development needs, encouraged diverse participation in technological innovation, and increased the commercialization of federal research. Former SBIR Hall of Fame winners include Qualcomm, IRobot and Symantec.

All award winners are selected by the SBA, based on the recommendations of a panel of judges. All winners will be invited to the awards program in June at the annual SBIR National Conference at the National Harbor.

The SBA offers the SBIR and the STTR programs for small businesses that are looking to showcase their technological inventions in the commercial marketplace. The SBIR program is a three-phase award program that encourages small businesses to explore their technological potential and helps them profit from their inventions.

The SBA is currently asking for Nominations for 2014 Tibbetts Awards and SBIR Hall of Fame winners.  Information about applications, including how to apply online, can be found at http://www.sbir.gov/news/2014-tibbetts-and-hall-fame-award-nominations.

The deadline to nominate is 11:59 pm EDT on Friday May 2, 2014.

FedEx

How many Veteran entrepreneurs are looking for that next big product, revolutionary business model or improved production plan? Many great innovators often take little credit for the originality of their ideas. They often allege that idea already existed and was in practice elsewhere. And that all they did was take that idea and apply it to a new field. Veteran entrepreneurs might want to look into their past, at their military experience, in order to get ideas that could benefit their futures in business.

It is amazing how great business ideas are born. Many Veteran entrepreneurs have found success by taking practices, standards and ideologies from their military service and applying them to their civilian companies. One of the best examples of this can be found in the business plan of Veteran Entrepreneur Fred Smith.

Smith served three years as an officer in the Marine Corps, from 1966-1969. During his time as a platoon leader, company commander and Forward Air Controller, Smith flew with pilots in over 200 combat missions, low and slow, so that Smith could observe enemy targets. Aside from his Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, Smith states that his two tours in Vietnam resulted in gaining invaluable knowledge that he later applied to what became the global courier service FedEx.

“Everything that went into FedEx that made the business what it is today relates to what I learned in the Marine Corps, and I’ve always been grateful for that education and for those I’ve served with,” Smith said.

Smith claims that his military experience gave him the foundation for the leadership standards and organizational structure for his company. Smith said that the leadership examples set for him in the Marine Corps prompted him to design a structure for his business, where the components of his company could all work collaboratively, but also function independently if need be. FedEx is famous for promoting from within and building leaders.

“The vast majority of FedEx leaders today started out as pickup or delivery people, or washing airplanes,” Smith said.

Smith also used lessons learned in the military when he revolutionized the industry of parcel delivery. Smith started Federal Express (would later become FedEx) in 1971. Using the example of efficiency that he saw in the military, Smith designed the well-coordinated air-ground operations delivery service that has made FedEx famous.

For any Veteran entrepreneur who is trying to dream up that next great idea, be sure that you remember your experiences in uniform. Because maybe your idea isn’t a dream– maybe it’s something you’ve done a thousand times before, in uniform.

Government Contracts

Obtaining government contracts can significantly increase a small business’ chance of success. The U.S. government awards close to $500 billion to buy goods and services each year. More than $100 billion of those contracts are designated for small businesses. Small business owners would be wise to capitalize on the government’s need for contracting them. However, contracting with the government is much different than selling to the private sector.

There are resources for small business owners who wish to locate and obtain government contracts. Federal Business Opportunities, also known as FedBizOpps.Gov, is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Their website, www.fbo.gov contains a wealth of information. The main function of the site is to allow government “Buyers/Engineers” to post, manage and award contract listings, and allow vendors/small business owners to search, view and retrieve the contract listings. Hundreds of opportunities appear on the site daily. There are currently more than 22,100 contract opportunities posted.

The FedBizOpps site also includes business training information and site user guides. The site posts information about events, news and changes in policy. Buyers and vendors need to set up a user account to access the site.

Another valuable resource that small business owners looking to obtain government contracts should utilize is the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA works with federal agencies to ensure that at least 23% of government contracts are awarded to small businesses. The SBA’s website, www.sba.gov offers small business owners dozens of courses in government contracting. Each course is online and self-paced. These courses are free to use, but each course requires users to complete a registration form. The courses can be found on the website’s, Government Contracting Classroom portal.

The ability to obtain government contracts can make or break a company. Armed with the right tools, any small business can be awarded valuable government contracts. Make sure that your business is properly equipped to succeed.