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Startup Stories: Supporting Veteran Entrepreneurs

Summary: 
In this installment of Startup Stories, our celebration of the first six months of the White House's Startup America initiative, veteran Theodore Lasser talks about the progress his veteran-focused business incubator has made.

To celebrate the first six months of the White House-led Startup America initiative, this week we are highlighting the stories of real entrepreneurs who are creating jobs across the country.

The Startup America initiative aims to create the right policy environment for entrepreneurs to flourish.  For example, the President signed into law a 100% capital gains tax cut for investment in small businesses made throughout 2011. The President’s budget would make this tax incentive permanent.

Dr. Kyle Hansen is an Army veteran who served our country in Afghanistan. He is also the founder and CEO of “Heal the VET,” a company that has created software that enables and encourages veterans to proactively care for themselves between physician visits.  Like all of America’s veterans, Dr Hansen developed strong leadership and management skills during his military service but even the most complicated battlefield assignments don’t prepare people for navigating the world of business plans, angel investors, venture capitalists and tax codes.
 
That’s where Veteran Entrepreneurial Transfer (VETransfer) comes in. Located here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we are the first ever Veteran-focused business incubator, and we launched in March 2011, after the VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) — whose mission is to identify, fund, and evaluate new and improved ways the government can serve Veterans— selected our proposal to assemble a team of experienced entrepreneurs to found the first business accelerator focused solely on supporting the Veteran entrepreneur.
 
Our mission at VETransfer is “to improve veteran entrepreneurs’ outcomes by providing resources and support as they build and accelerate their businesses.”  We believe that veterans possess unique skills that, when supported in entrepreneurship, can lead to powerful outcomes. Dr. Hansen is currently part of our Incubation program, where he is learning lean business model startup techniques specific to software offerings. Next up for “Heal the VET” is offering recommendations based on health risks associated with the specific time and theater of a veteran’s service.

To date, VETransfer has reached out to over 15,000 veterans with our message of veteran entrepreneurship and military leadership as key ingredients to a success business. In the service they learned how to survive by working together as a single unit and managing complex operations, usually under intense pressure. Outside the service, our veterans take leadership roles instinctively in positions like firefighting, police, and, yes, executive management.  Indeed, the men and women who serve our country have founded and are currently leading some of the largest companies in the world, including Nike, FedEx, and GoDaddy.com.

I am proud to report that the VETransfer business accelerator recently accepted its 45th veteran-owned company.  These startups and growth-phase businesses include high-tech firms, mobile companies, and traditional services.  Going forward, we will bring in veteran entrepreneurs who are part of VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program.  
 
In addition to Dr. Hansen, consider these two Veteran entrepreneurs as representative of the program and what the American economy has going for it:
 
A-Sun Truth, U.S. Marine, is the founder and CEO of Twicketer, a mobile ticketing and coupon service. Truth came into our program after beta testing his software for over a year while searching for a team of individuals that could help him fully launch his company. We put Truth into our Accelerator track where we introduced him to a network of individuals who were experts in his industry. Since April, Truth has increased his profits and is expanding his company footprint nationally.
 
Mark McCarty, an Air Force and Vietnam Veteran, came to VETransfer.org introducing a web-based social network for Veterans and their loved ones. The service will provide tools that allow Veterans and their families to plan and raise money for homecomings welcoming their returning Veterans. The mission and vision of McCarty’s company is to make it easy for family, friends, and communities to celebrate and honor the newly returned Veteran.  
 
Six months from now, Truth, McCarty and Dr. Hansen will be even further along a profitable path toward business success and our economy will benefit from that.  But the real value comes from seeing our unique partnerships with the VA Innovation Initiative and Startup America bear fruit in the accomplishments of our nation’s veterans.

To read more startup success stories, see other blog posts in this series by Manu Kumar and Tal Flanchraych.