I still carry the U.S. Army Leadership Guide in my work bag. In it, initiative is listed as one of the desirable traits of a leader. It’s defined as “a quality of seeing what has to be done and commencing on a course of action.”
As I think about what I’ve learned after training hundreds of military entrepreneurs, my first reaction is to restate all that we know about military veterans. In general, we know that veterans have the unique experience of military service, often gained under very demanding conditions. From this we, as veterans, mold commonly referred-to traits like dependability, commitment to a cause greater than ourselves, love for our fellow comrades in arms regardless of their background or ethnicity, and a drive to succeed against all odds -- into attributes that benefit us as entrepreneurs. While anyone can argue that these traits are the core DNA that make any entrepreneur succeed, it is the initiative trait that surfaces and stands out among veteran entrepreneurs.
Initiative begins when veterans first explore entrepreneurship. We know our military service has made us different from our civilian peers, but we can’t put a finger on why we’re so different, even when we take off the uniform. But, over time we notice that we see the world differently. Given the same set of facts, we see different opportunities than our non-military neighbors. When it comes time to earning a living and finding our way in society, veterans seem to have a greater tendency to lean towards creating their own destiny. Entrepreneurship starts to appeal to us. We take the initiative to consider it.
Experienced vetrepreneurs want to help others pursue entrepreneurship.
It’s not just being an entrepreneur that appeals to us. For those in our ranks who today are veterans operating businesses, the cultural yearn to help our fellow veterans has never left us. It drives us to take the initiative to help those that are just now exploring entrepreneurship. Initiative again takes over. For example, VetToCEO was founded in 2013. Our mission is to help veterans explore entrepreneurship as a viable career path after leaving military service. Our tagline is “Same Team. New Mission.”
We’re not alone in that quest. In just four short years, organizations and programs like Boots to Business, Patriot Boot Camp/Techstars, VetsLikeMe, Warrior Rising, Honor Foundation, and event-based programs such as Bunker Labs and VetCon have likewise formed to give veterans familiar programs through which they can dip their boots into entrepreneurship. These programs all have common characteristics, including the fact that they were founded by veteran entrepreneurs with a goal of helping their colleagues.
More recently, organizations such as Veteran Business Services, the Vet-Biz Network, Task Force X Capital, StreetShares, VeteranCrowd and others have formed to assist veterans with the extremely difficult task of raising capital for their businesses. All of these organizations have one thing in common -- they were born out of some veteran or group of veterans’ initiative to help their brothers and sisters in arms.
Military experience is an investment that pays dividends.
The military invests heavily in building teams that embody a sense of duty to causes greater than oneself. Our military is extremely powerful due to generations of leaders at all levels that have chosen to volunteer for a series of unique tests of character while performing military missions under duress and oftentimes without all the resources normally required to complete the mission.
When we leave the military we take this commitment to reaching a goal regardless of our given resources with us to our civilian lives. Having legions of veterans who have these traits in our society is a national asset that must be leveraged for economic contribution and development. Taking these core traits and applying them to entrepreneurship is what creates a successful veteran entrepreneur.
There's a growing network of veterans helping veterans succeed as entrepreneurs.
VetToCEO has trained over a thousand veterans across 20 cohorts in the past four years. What we’ve learned is that it takes initiative from the veteran exploring entrepreneurship and those like them that have started or bought businesses to work together to be successful. We have learned that experienced veteran entrepreneurs leap at the chance to help fellow veterans, even if it means starting out with only advice and mentorship. VetToCEO itself is a growing organization of over 60 veteran volunteers all contributing to a program that helps other veterans and transitioning members of the military succeed as entrepreneurs. The innate bond we all have forms the glue that provides us with the chance of being successful as entrepreneurs.
In today’s world of constant global conflict, the investment of our nation in the 1 percent of us who volunteer to serve is paying dividends to develop new businesses and support business leaders from its military ranks. The programs and funding sources focused on veterans are still rapidly expanding every day. Initiative is alive and well among us, and it’s awesome to watch.