TechStars Patriot Boot Camp gives 75 vets a three-day accelerator
About the author: Terry Roberts, a former active-duty U.S. Marine, is the co-founder of Columbia, Mo.-based Picsure. Last week, Roberts attended the inaugural TechStars Patriot Boot Camp in Washington D.C. We asked Roberts to share his experience on Silicon Prairie News.
General George Casey, the 36th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, spoke the opening day of TechStars Patriot Boot Camp.
When I first heard about TechStars hosting an abbreviated version of the 90-day accelerator program, I thought, "Sweet! Tell me more!" Then I saw that it was three days, it would be hosted at Georgetown University, and that it was geared specifically towards Veterans. That's when I felt goose bumps. Before I knew it, I was on a plane to D.C. to attend the first inaugural TechStars Patriot Boot Camp.
You see, entrepreneurs are a rare breed who "…(go) to bed at night, knowing they bet the farm. Then they wake up the next morning to see if it's still there!" Paul Bucha, Medal of Honor recipient so kindly put it when he spoke to the TechStars Boot Campers. In other words, entrepreneurs are driven, ready to face risk and adversity face-to-face on any given day. When you pair this with the mindset of a United States Armed Services Veteran, you have a recipe for making history. Startup founder Taylor McLemore approached TechStars founder and CEO David Cohen earlier this year with the same thought and proposed Patriot Boot Camp shortly thereafter. Six months later, 75 thankful, yet highly motivated Veterans arrived to McDonough School of Business ready to make things happen.
The experience began Wednesday morning, as I walked into the business school, grabbed my badge, and was welcomed with a warm smile from the volunteers and given a pretty sweet olive drab T-shirt with the TechStars logo in camouflage. Within minutes, everyone was in the auditorium listening to Cohen share his appreciation for Veterans. Prior to this, I hadn't seen him speak. So I was quite surprised to know that he, as well as the rest of the TechStars crew, alumni, and mentors, had such a strong "pay it forward" mentality and a level of humbleness that is rare these days.
The first day consisted of guest speakers sharing their entrepreneurial advice and how to capitalize on our strengths as Veterans to take our ideas or companies to the next level. In one day, we were fortunate enough to listen to and interact with General George Casey, the 36th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Aneesh Chopra, former U.S. CTO, and Bucha, Medal of Honor Recipient. The overarching theme from these speakers was the importance of relationship building, networking, and helping each other out. The fun part about these speakers was each of them called out to the audience, requesting where the Marines were, where the Soldiers were, etc… The Marines in the audience had the loudest and most intimidating "ooh-rah!" every time. That made me proud. Yut.
The second day consisted of the TechStars crew making appointment sheets available for the Veterans to make 15-20 minute one-on-one meetings with the 30-plus mentors available. We were told to choose four to meet with. I must confess however, I saw openings and took advantage of each. So I might or might not have met with more :).
My first mentor was David Mandell. This dude was straight with me from the beginning. He was a great listener and totally understood Picsure as I was explaining it to him. Thankfully, he provided some feedback that I had been longing for and will likely help take our venture to the next level. David's point was to focus on creating Picsure from the perspective of the user and to not limit ourselves in the process of doing so. We concluded our meeting by exchanging contact information and he insisted that I contact him, should I have any questions. He rocked.
Next up was David Cohen (far right). That's right, each Veteran who attended had the opportunity to meet personally with the founder of TechStars, show him what they bring to the table, then sit back and wait for his feedback. Unbelievable. So I took advantage of my time with him, quickly presented my pitch, showed him the app, and anxiously waited for some feedback. Sure enough, he had plenty to give. All of which was very positive and extremely helpful for building Picsure as we move forward.
Throughout the rest of the day, I also met with Kelley Hillborn, Jason Seats, Tuan Pham, Shai Goldman, and Paul Ford. My time with each of these gentlemen was spent productively and greatly, greatly appreciated.
The second day concluded with the whole crew traveling to the DC-based LivingSocial office where we were fortunate enough to listen to the VP of R&D for LivingSocial speak to his experience over the past 20 years with startups, lessons learned, and how to use the strengths that are embedded into the minds of Veterans to achieve entrepreneurial success.
The third and final day, also known as the infamous "Demo Day," consisted of our chance as emerging entrepreneurs to hop in the spotlight and show that Veterans can do it with the best of them. We had two minutes, no PowerPoint, and one microphone to pitch our companies to an auditorium of mentors, TechStars alumni, and fellow Veterans. Oh, did I mention that David Cohen was sitting in the front row, only 10 feet in front of the podium? Well, he was. In fact, he was willing to raise the "You've got 30 seconds left!" sign as a friendly gesture to wrap it up and wrap it up quickly.
We concluded TechStars Patriot Boot Camp with an evening at F. Scott's, courtesy of TechStars, where the Veterans and TechStars crew were able to share contact information, best-practices, and relative industry benchmarks back and forth before making our way back to make an impact.
All in all, the experience was phenomenal! I was able to build some great relationships, gain exposure to my startup, and learn about challenges and approaches from the experience of seasoned entrepreneurs. I'm truly grateful to have had the opportunity to meet with everyone in D.C. and hope that I was as helpful to them as they were to me.
Credits: Photos courtesy of Terry Roberts.
Terry Roberts, a former active-duty U.S. Marine of nearly 10 years, is the co-founder of Picsure, a mobile app that enables users to easily print and collect photos at events. Outside of his startup, Roberts recently accepted a position at Veterans United Home Loans to lead the innovation efforts there and help sustain their phenomenal growth, being the nation's No. 1 Dedicated Lender for VA Home Loans.
Roberts is absolutely crazy about entrepreneurship and is determined to use his gift to positively impact society and he strives to serve as a role model to anyone who desires to do the same.
Find Roberts on Twitter, @t3rryrob.