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A few months ago TechStars ran a program for military veterans called TechStars Patriot Boot Camp. It was powerful and well received. Since then I’ve had a few emails exchanges about the lack of veterans, especially entrepreneurs who are veterans, in Boulder. Several negative perceptions and biases arose and as the conversation continued, Taylor McLemore and Dave Cass asked if they could put a guest blog about the issue and their perspective up on this blog. I agreed and thought what they wrote up was important. It follows.
What if I told you there is a valuable group of entrepreneurs that know Boulder to be a great place for startups BUT a place that is not welcoming to them…WHAT?…”our Boulder. No way!”
This past summer, I worked with David Cohen, Tom Chickoore and the great people at TechStars to develop and organize a startup boot camp for Veterans. The program was a great success, however, a theme arose that startled me. Multiple Veterans told me: “I know Boulder is a great place for startups, but I hear it is not that welcoming to Veterans.”
After hearing this, Dave Cass (a Veteran and Boulder entrepreneur) and I surveyed a number of Veterans about this perception. Not all Veterans feel this way, but many do. Much of the perception comes from the political lean of Boulder. But some of it actually comes from individual experience who recounted negative experiences while wearing a uniform in Boulder.
I don’t expect Boulder to change, but the startup community should act to change this perception—Veterans should feel welcome.
Veterans are kick ass entrepreneurs. There are many examples of successful Veteran entrepreneurs, but very few in Boulder. I am a firm believer that Veterans have a skillset well suited for startups. They are problem solvers and master risk managers. They understand that failure is not an option. They understand leadership and commitment. For almost every startup, hiring a Veteran will add to the collective diversity of perspective and experience.
What I think we should do:
Spread The Word: Ask a veteran for their perspective and ideas on how we can do a better job of including this community. Talk about hiring Veterans with your co-founders and employees. Dave Cass and I are starting an online community as a means for Veterans and supporters to share their entrepreneurial stories, advice and wisdom. Stay tuned for details!
Take Action: If you are a founder, ask “How can we actively involve the Veteran community to find the right candidates for these jobs?” If you are an investor or mentor; seek out veteran founded companies.
Veterans, Come Check Out Boulder: Consider this your formal invitation! Start your company here.
If we can make Boulder a haven for military Veteran entrepreneurs, we will be a stronger community.
That said, Veterans will need to have an open mind about Boulder. Perhaps, It is best they hear from one of their own.
-Taylor McLemore / Founder of Prediculous (@T2theMac)
Sun Tzu wisely stated that “victorious warriors win first and then go to war”. It’s true; in the military we love intelligence. We never start a mission without first studying the players, threats, and opportunities. This reminds me of the importance of geographic choice when starting a company. There are a few communities in America that serve as model examples of a thriving startup ecosystem; Boulder is at the top of the list thanks to leaders like Brad Feld.
If a startup ecosystem is a community of players that work in balance to increase the likelihood of success, isn’t that the same symbiotic relationship displayed by military on the battlefield? And yet I see almost no military veteran first-time entrepreneurs here. Yes, our town is far left but our military community could just as easily be criticized for being politically one-dimensional and avoiding great startup communities due to political perceptions reduces our own potential and opportunity.
We left our comfort zone when we joined the military and my challenge to veterans is to do it again. If you start your company in Boulder, you will learn immensely from a new perspective and the startup community will be support you. We also have a great opportunity to serve as a positive ambassador for the military in a community that largely doesn’t understand us. Personally, I find it honor to represent the armed forces in Boulder and I enjoy the challenge that it brings.
So if the intelligence brief is telling us that Boulder could increase your odds of startup success, then more veterans should be starting companies here right? If we respond no, then we are ignoring intelligence–something we would never do in the military. If you’re a veteran and considering a startup community: Come to Boulder to attend a startup event and see for yourself what we have to offer. You may never want to leave.
-Dave Cass, Founder of Uvize (@uvize)