“What’s next?” is a common question among military people as they prepare for a post-military career. Those moving to veteran status look to transfer their skills into a civilian career, but for most the steps to go forward are often unclear. For others who desire further challenge and excitement starting a business is very appealing, but the entrepreneurial path may be even more tenuous.
The Broad Street Angels (BSA), an angel investor group based at the Union League of Philadelphia, seeks to support veterans, knowing well the risks and challenges associated with being an entrepreneur. On September 6th the group hosted their monthly investor meeting onboard the Battleship New Jersey docked across the river in Camden, New Jersey, dedicating the evening to veteran entrepreneurs seeking investor money. BSA members John Rigaut, Katherine O’Neill, and Susan Yee worked together to find a location they felt appropriate for their military guests.
“We are very pleased that close to 60 angel investors came out for this special evening to show our appreciation for those who have served,” said Broad Street Angels Chair RoseAnn Rosenthal. “Our mission is to provide access to sources of capital, as well as coaching, that entrepreneurs might not otherwise have. The Union League was started in response to a national need at the time of the Civil War and our helping veterans honors that original mission.”
Three veterans pitched to the BSA membership that evening, a well-timed opportunity due to the group’s significant growth since its founding just two plus years ago. Broad Street Angel investors now reaching close to 100 members funded $2.4 million in seven companies in 2018, a significant increase over the group’s inaugural year of $1 million in five companies. They focus on early stage technology companies, primarily in the Mid-Atlantic region.
During the networking hour the veterans rubbed elbows with the angel investors who later would judge their ventures for investment worthiness. Each expressed confidence for the challenge at hand, attributing their very positive mindset to the six month WeWork Veterans in Residence Program. In addition to receiving entrepreneurial training provided by not for profit Bunker Labs, they each received 6 months of free co-working.
“We received a tremendous amount of support and coaching for our businesses and how to pitch” said Jack Licata, founder of Fast Bags and former Nuclear Missile Launch Officer.
Yet the three veterans gained much more than well-honed pitching skills from the program. Former Navy Seal Rob Huberty, COO of ZeroEyes, values the connections he has made by tapping into the Bunker Labs community that has multiple locations across the US.
“Reaching out to the community that you are part of is very important. We gained access to a lot of people who gave us support,” said Huberty, specifically referencing Bunker Labs and their timely suggestion to submit his venture to pitch at the BSA event.
Jesse Canella, founder of Military Talent Group, concurred with Huberty, while emphasizing the veteran aspect of the program. “What is unique about Bunker Labs is that it is not only entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurs who have served in the military. It has been a huge value add.”
While the Bunker Labs training program was a big boost, all three veteran entrepreneurs view their military careers as foundational to their entrepreneurial pursuit, giving them critical skills and experience to take on such a big challenge.
Licata having worked in the country’s nuclear missile program saw exposure to responsibility as highly valuable, noting that you learn how to respond to things that go bad quickly— which translates into gaining important judgment skills. This is one factor he feels contributes to veterans having a higher success rate as entrepreneurs.
Huberty’s perspective is somewhat similar. He feels that as young people you are required to make difficult decisions that have real consequences. When those powerful experiences are joined with the hard skills provided by the military, an individual can be bolstered for the rest of their career.
He also feels a veteran brings the ability to face adversity and to persevere—both critical in the entrepreneurial arena for achieving success.
“The military taught me more than anything else is to deal with things that are unfair and unjust on a daily basis. It turns out that life is not fair and when see that and go into unwinnable situations you can complain, turn around and destroy morale or you can find a way to win.”