Dan Senor

Start-up Nation

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 mindset 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.

But there is a difference, and we are here tonight to celebrate that difference. It takes a special mindset to transition from a combat and military environment to a civilian business and entrepreneurial environment.

I just 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 the 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 mindset for mission accomplishment and – once again – hard work.

There is something to this veteran-entrepreneur relationship. Here in CT, we have a population of approximately 235,000+ veterans; but more than 50,000 veteran-owned businesses, a better than 1-in-5 ratio.

Today, as I speak, the unemployment rate among disabled veterans is 25%, in some states as high as 30%.  Approximately 2.6 million Americans have served in the military since 9/11. Of that number, about 2.2 million have served in combat theaters in Iraq or Afghanistan. If 1-in-5 of those veterans started businesses – our nation would create nearly 500,000 start-ups.

We veteran-entrepreneurs, with our different mindset, with our extraordinary experiences overseas, with our Growth mindset – we are part of the solution to the present economic situation.

Let’s break it down.  2,500,000 veterans. 50 states. 10 years. 500,000 start-ups.  Basically, we’re talking about every state starting 1,000 veteran and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses for the next decade. 50,000 a year for the next 10 years.  This is eminently doable.

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