Start-up Nation Transformation: The Case for Veterans

It takes a special mindset to volunteer to join the military in times of war. To leave the comforts of home, to leave family and friends, to go into harm’s way in far off foreign lands creates a complex mindset. It takes a certain mentality to brave the dangers of combat, to go outside the wire and engage the enemy on their grounds.

What is it, ultimately, that makes veterans different from civilians? I have been interested in this question since 1994 – my first recruiting tour of duty. Why did some people sign on the dotted line for four years or more, and some not? What was the unmoved mover that prompted the best and brightest of America’s youth to raise their right hand and take a solemn oath to support and defend the Constitution? Over 6 years and two recruiting tours of duty, I never could put my finger on it. It remains a mystery to me, even now.

We have to recognize the difference between transitioning from the military to civilian life, and transformation from a warrior to an entrepreneur. Transition is merely a change of position. Transformation is a change of substance. It takes a specific attitude to make a transformation. There is a world of difference, and we should celebrate that difference.

I read a book entitled Mindset by Carol Dweck, a psychologist who studies success. In her book, she posits two fundamental mindsets, Growth vs Fixed. Growth mindsets have a tendency to learn experientially, a willingness to take on new challenges and explore new opportunities, and maybe most importantly, a proclivity for hard work. In other words, qualities we most often associate with successful entrepreneurship.

A body of academic research exists about why veterans the world over tend to be successful entrepreneurs. In their book Start-up Nation, Dan Senor and Saul Singer explore the factors contributing to the entrepreneurial success of Israel, on a per capita basis, the most entrepreneurial country in the world. They assert one of the key reasons is Israel’s compulsory universal military service, which creates a common language and outlook for mission accomplishment and – once again – hard work.

Hard work, mission bias, and problem solving skills are at the heart of the veteran-entrepreneur transformation. Here in CT, we have a population of greater than 250,000 veterans; but more than 40,000 veteran-owned businesses, about a 1-in-6 ratio.

Today, as I speak, the unemployment rate among disabled veterans is 15.8 in CT, and here among the current generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the unemployment rate is greater than 30%.

Approximately 2.5 million Americans have served in overseas  theaters of operations in the Global War on Terror since 9/11. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a close, and as budgets are cut and the military draws down over the next decade, more than 600,000 service members a year will leave the military and transition to civilian life; as many as 10,000 veterans a year will return to CT.

If 1-in-6 of those veterans started businesses – our nation would create more than 100,000 veteran start-ups per year. We could create more than 1,000 veteran start-ups here in CT. We veteran-entrepreneurs, with our Growth mindset, as we transform from warrior to entrepreneur – we are part of the solution to the present economic situation.

We can create a start-up state, and a start-up nation.