A Former Guardsman Wants to Help 100 Vets Found Their Own Tech Startup Every Year

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(Courtesy of Ryan Micheletti)

Ryan Micheletti perfectly personifies America's entrepreneurial spirit. He co-founded a private security company in the San Francisco area in 2014. He's an investor and adviser who sits on the board of a number of tech startups in Silicon Valley.

He's also a former member of the California State Guard, who led a search-and-rescue and emergency communications unit, focused on responding to natural and man-made disasters. He believes veterans are perfectly suited to start their own businesses.

Micheletti even put his money where his mouth is after he started Vet-Tech, a startup accelerator for veterans looking to begin their own businesses. Now, he's making it his business to help 100 veterans get into the tech sector on their own -- every year.

When given the tools and training necessary to succeed, veterans will outperform non-veterans in household income, business creation and job creation, according to a 2019 Pew Research study. It stands to reason that the more the entrepreneurial community embraces separated veterans, the better off we'll all be.

That's part of the rationale behind the Founder Institute's Veteran Founder Initiative, which aims to help launch and support 100 veteran-led technology companies each year.

"There was a study that shows a 2.1 multiplier effect for every tech job created," Micheletti said. "For every tech job we help create, there are 2.1 other jobs that get created elsewhere. ... This could be the way to end veteran unemployment, helping veterans start tech businesses and then hiring other veterans."

Ryan Micheletti speaks at Microsoft about the Veteran Founder Initiative. (Courtesy of Ryan Micheletti)

The Founder Institute is America's largest business startup incubator, helping develop more than 4,000 businesses since 2009; raising more than $950 million in pre-seed capital; and building global networks of teams and mentors in a structured, online environment where ideas and the businesses built around those ideas can thrive.

Micheletti has been a part of the Founder Institute since 2015, and he's noticed a few key consistencies about vets and the needs of a thriving young startup. Not only do veterans make great leaders, the military gave them the soft skills necessary to start companies, he said.

"I dove immediately into the tech startup scene," he said. "What I found is that there was a big correlation between entrepreneurship and military service. So I started digging into it and found there are a lot of programs and support for veterans in general, but there really wasn't any support for veterans who wanted to start tech companies and tech businesses."

He thinks veterans who build those kinds of businesses can bring much-needed mentorship to vets and non-vets alike in the tech startup community. After leaving the service, Micheletti met Bow Rodgers, a Vietnam veteran and former group president at Sprint. They realized that none of the resources available to vets would help them in tech startups.

That's how they founded Vet-Tech, a first beachhead for helping veterans invade Silicon Valley.

Micheletti brought what he learned about veterans and entrepreneurship to his role at The Founder Institute. Today, he's head of global operations for a network of 14,000 mentors in 180 cities around the world. He oversees a 14-week startup boot camp for vets looking to get into tech, no matter how developed their idea for a company might be -- even if it's just an idea.

Veterans also have a lot going for them the moment they leave the military, including further education via veteran grants. This, coupled with the self-discipline, work effort, team mentality and resilience ingrained during military service, leaves veterans in a great position to have successful, well-paid careers. But Micheletti believes more can be done.

"One of the biggest barriers that I see is technical skills," he said. "For example, they don't teach you how to code in Java or do software development in the military. While there are jobs in the military where you do similar work, it's not widespread, and coding isn't your primary job."

But don't think starting a tech company and getting a launch through The Veteran Founder Initiative is going to mean easy money and the cover of Wired Magazine right away. This accelerator is anything but easy. The Founder Institute's program is difficult -- it's called the BUD/S of entrepreneurship, referring to the Basic Underwater Demolition course taken by all aspiring Navy SEALs.

"There are a bunch of people who say they want to be an entrepreneur, and they join the program and quit when things get hard," Micheletti said. "We make the programs very tough, and, globally, only 30% to 35% will make it through. The Founder Institute is essentially a proxy for real life, so we know that if we make the program tough and if the founder rises to the occasion, they're going to do exceptionally well in the real world."

The institute has plenty of data to support its program design, along with 4,000 success stories. Micheletti says that, as long as an entrepreneur is open to feedback and has high fluid intelligence -- the ability for a person to learn something new quickly -- they'll figure out how to succeed.

"Despite COVID-19, there is no greater time in human history than right now to start a company," he said. "Part of that is due to the ecosystem growing and becoming more mature. You've got great organizations like Patriot Boot Camp and Bunker Labs that support veteran entrepreneurs. The Veteran Founder Initiative is a great way to help high-potential veterans launch tech companies that could potentially reach a global scale."

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