A national nonprofit that helps active duty service members, veterans and military spouses on the path to becoming tech entrepreneurs is in San Antonio this week. Patriot Boot Camp kicked off its second round of technology workshops on Friday.
Approximately 50 veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs from around the country gathered at Embassy Suites to take part in educational workshops, mentoring sessions with startup experts, and peer networking.
Founded in 2012, the bootcamp is a nonprofit that operates out of Denver and Austin. It’s associated with TechStars, a three-month long accelerator program that caters to entrepreneurs who are getting ready to scale their startup businesses.
Josh Carter, interim CEO of Patriot Boot Camp, said his organization is trying to fill a niche for military members transition out of service.
“So when you get out of the military, there's a three day program you go through called TAPS — Transition Assistance Program. It's very siloed. There's employment, education and entrepreneurship. And you have to pick one,” he said. “So the folks that are picking education, there's really nothing you're getting as far as entrepreneurship.”
Carter says the number of transitioning vets who create their own businesses has plummeted since World War II, down to about 4 percent now. Since 2003, enlisted service members have been leaving the military at a rate of roughly 250,000 each year.
“That is far and away a low number that we need to try to fix,” Carter said. “That's what we're trying to do."
One of the challenges for Patriot Boot Camp has been getting the word out to the right people: recent veterans with entrepreneurial aspirations.
“It's a challenge to get in front of them as they're transitioning because they don't have a network; they've been spending all their time in the military,” he said. “They don't have the ability to really build their own awareness, to figure out what's out there for them."
Patriot Boot Camp attracts a wide range of applicants, from those still hammering out a business concept to entrepreneurs looking to grow their already established businesses. The application process is competitive, however. This year, the boot camp received 70 applications for 50 available spots.
“So we'll often get entrepreneurs apply multiple times. What we're looking for is to see progress: Are you still working on this? Do you have the stamina to be an entrepreneur long term? Because it's a grind. The hardest thing you will ever do is to create your company and run a startup,” Carter said. “Do they have the resources? Are they the right fit for what they're trying to build?”
James Schmeling, an Air Force veteran who helped found the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, is one of this year's participants. He said veterans are successful entrepreneurs at rates that exceed those who have never served.
"So studies in this area about what a veteran brings to business ownership includes things like persistence to goals, resiliency, the ability to bounce back,” he said. “The ability to learn and apply new technology, and doing it on their own and being self-guided.”
The veteran population is ripe for entrepreneurship, according to a recent study from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which found that veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans. There is about one veteran-owned firm for every 10 veterans.
Carson Frame can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @carson_frame