By Elizabeth DePompei
Army Special Forces veteran Nick Culbertson had no initial interest in becoming a business owner, but when he struggled to secure grant funding for a research project while in medical school, he discovered the world of venture capital.
“I was working on a research project that spun out of control and turned into a company,” Culbertson said. That project became Protenus, a business using artificial intelligence to track hospital compliance with patient privacy laws and detect fraud, such as data theft or drug diversion. The company now employs 115 people, is in more than 1,000 hospitals across the country and has raised $15 million in capital.
Culbertson attributes his company’s speedy success in part to Patriot Boot Camp, a program that since 2012 has helped veterans, service members and military spouses become entrepreneurs through multiday workshops with business experts and a community of mentors.
In January, after years of support for the organization’s mission, DAV took the unprecedented step of acquiring Patriot Boot Camp, formerly an independent charity, as a DAV program. The move allows Patriot Boot Camp to grow in terms of the number of events it facilitates and the scope of services and reach it provides veteran entrepreneurs.
“It’s unusual for the board of a charity to transfer its assets to another charity, but we did this knowing it was the best possible thing for the community we serve and the initiative we started,” said Taylor McLemore, who founded the program along with David Cohen, David Calone and Jared Polis.
The four founders leveraged their experiences supporting technology companies to help veteran and military community entrepreneurs build companies of impact and scale. Calone, who led the transition as board chair; McLemore; and previous board members remain involved as members of the newly established DAV National Veterans Entrepreneurship Council.
McLemore said DAV’s strong reputation, extensive reach and influence in the veteran community will take Patriot Boot Camp to the next level.
“When we bring those things together to unlock the power and potential of veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs, we’re only going to see that community grow,” McLemore said. “And those people do great things.”
Since 2012, Patriot Boot Camp has held 23 boot camps for 1,000 entrepreneurs. Its alumni have raised more than $150 million in venture capital and employ nearly 2,000 people. Four business owners supported by Patriot Boot Camp have appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” reality show—with one receiving a $1.5 million venture capital offer from Mark Cuban.
“Disabled veterans and their families face a lot of challenges. Entrepreneurship can level the playing field and allow them to leverage the creativity they show in overcoming obstacles to build companies,” said National Headquarters Executive Director Barry Jesinoski. “And when they succeed, they light a path for others and become employers who are going to hire more veterans and spouses, creating more opportunities for growth and independence.”
Jen Pilcher, who led the initiative as its chief executive officer and now serves as the national director of DAV Patriot Boot Camp, said the organization’s “secret sauce” has been its mentorship program and support network. Cohorts have intentionally been limited to 50 people, allowing for more one-on-one opportunities. Culbertson, a disabled veteran and member of Chapter 33 in Fort Meade, Maryland, said the experience helped his budding company go “from zero to 60 really fast.”
“A big part of the benefit from Patriot Boot Camp was the connections that we made in the industry and finding good partners to be able to figure out how to market in health care,” Culbertson said.
Pilcher said she hopes to carry forth the recipe that made Patriot Boot Camp a success.
“I’m excited about the scaling opportunity, while still keeping the core mentorship aspect. If we can figure that out, we have something that no one else has,” Pilcher said. “Under DAV, Patriot Boot Camp truly has limitless potential.”
As a military spouse and entrepreneur, Pilcher reaped the rewards of Patriot Boot Camp as a participant after starting her first company. In 2012, she founded MilitaryOneClick, a digital media resource, and its subsidiary brand, MilSpouseFest, a nationwide program supporting military and veteran spouses.
Pilcher said members of the military community choose entrepreneurship for different reasons, but they all have one thing in a common: They’re mission-driven.
“The missions these companies have are as inspiring as they are impactful,” Pilcher said. “It’s like they took their service and found a new calling.”
Career Army logistics officer Carolyn Nice stumbled into a new purpose three years ago during a meeting at the Pentagon. A two-star general was discussing how to make household moves easier on service members and their families. When he asked Nice for her input, a light went on.
“I was like, ‘It would be so cool to have an app to be able to track the truck and the packages and to have expectation management on when things show up,’” Nice recalled.
After that meeting, she threw her energy into the vision that would become the Nice Move mobile app, a QR code-based tracking system for household goods on the move.
“I built it to help my brothers- and sisters-in-arms move and have a better experience than the ones we were having,” Nice said.
In October, she attended a virtual Patriot Boot Camp. “I could not believe the talent that was invited to come,” Nice said. “Not only invited to come, but those professionals and those leaders of industry who actually wanted to come and be a part of helping veterans to grow and build our businesses.”
Nice, who was inspired to join Chapter 10 in Arlington, Virginia and is seeking DAV’s other free services, said she’s excited to wake up every day and figure out what’s next. She continues to build partnerships and hopes to eventually offer the Nice Move app for free.
“I think the biggest thing for anybody who’s serving is just to remember that there’s another world out there after our service,” Nice said. “And there’s so much we can give and that we can do to help others.”
According to Jesinoski, the addition of Patriot Boot Camp is one major step in an evolution DAV is making to empower members of the veteran and military community.
“We’ve taken a deep dive into the processes and contracting associated with Service-Disabled VeteranOwned Small Businesses and we’ve been involved with the Department of Labor and Small Business Administration’s efforts to assist and support those who’ve served,” he said. “Our employment department continues to be a leader in connecting veterans, military members and spouses with meaningful jobs. We know how important it is for veterans to have a mission, and we’re blessed with supporters who appreciate the return they see in their investment by contributing to these efforts.”Read comments