A little more than a week ago, July 17-19, 2013, I had the pleasure of participating in the 2nd Annual Techstars Patriot Boot Camp held at George Washinton University (GWU) in Washington DC.
Near the end of May 2013, my friends at VETransfer – a Milwaukee-based program that helps veterans become entrepreneurs – let me know the 2nd Annual Techstars Patriot Boot Camp was coming up, and that I should apply to participate.
I completed the application and recorded a 4-minute video describing my military background and why I wanted to attend. By early-June I learned I was selected to attend! I quickly made flight and hotel reservations, and ordered a set of personal business cards from Moo.Com. There was no cost for the ‘boot camp’ itself.
Day One – July 18, 2013
On the first day of the program – “Education Day” – we were treated to talks by an impressive panel of speakers. Taylor McLemore – the “founder” of Techstars Patriot Boot Camp – welcomed us and outlined the agenda for each day. Retired General George Casey – the former 36th Chief of Staff of the Army – talked to us about transforming vision in to action. Dave Cass, CEO of Uvize, spoke of the struggles of being an entrepreneur and the value of working with mentors. David Mandell, CEO of PivotDesk, talked about “how to rock the pitch.” Aneesh Chopra, the first and now former Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the United States, suggested there are big opportunities for entrepreneurs today in the areas of government, healthcare, and education. Finally, Steve Blank talked with us by webcam about startups and startup methodologies. In the afternoon, we attended breakout sessions on further perfecting the pitch, raising capital, customer development, and the business model canvas.
Next, we all loaded onto buses and visited the headquarters of Opower where President and Founder, Alex Laskey, told us the history of his company. Opower also provided us with dinner and an opportunity to network and tour their impressive – yet open and very comfortable – offices. Finally, after a long day of learning, we loaded up on the buses and headed back to GWU. Whew, what a day!
Day Two – July 19, 2013
Day two – “Mentor Day” – started with a talk by the current CTO of the United States, Todd Park, who encouraged us to leverage the open data sets being provided by the government. He also gave us a list of tips for entrepreneurs and invited us to contact him directly if we had questions! Patrick Riley of the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) gave us tips on navigating “startup land” and working with mentors.
Next came the most exciting part of the program, for me: talking with the Techstars mentors in one-on-one 25-minute sessions. Earlier, using Ohours.Com, we were able to select which mentors we wanted to meet with. I was quick to register and was ultimately able to select and meet with eight mentors throughout the day. My first mentor session was with the serial entrepreneur and founder of Techstars, David Cohen. David was actually in London, so we talked by way of Skype. After listening to my story, he offered to put me in contact with another mentor who will hopefully help me validate my ideas. My other mentoring sessions were in-person and included meetings with: David Mandell, CEO of Pivot Desk; Rami Essaid, CEO of Distil Networks; Rahul Sing, CEO of Anant; Dave Drach, VP of Techstars; Rob Painter, Managing Director of Razors Edge Ventures; Jim Brinksma, Founder of Visible Arbitrage; and Ben Deda, VP of FullContact. I was stunned at the quality of these mentorship sessions. Each was fully engaged as I told my story and each provided unique ideas to help me move forward. During the day we also took breaks for talks by Congressman Jared Polis and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA).
Next, we all loaded on buses and headed to Washington’s preimere co-working space, 1776, where we had dinner and heard from Shabab Kaviani of CoFoundersLab and Donna Harris of 1776. Finally, we loaded back on the buses and headed back to GWU.
Day Three – July 20, 2013
Day three – “Demo Day” – was a half-day, and was kicked-off by a talk by Ramsey McGrory of AddThis. Next, while many attendees demonstrated their ideas to each other, I continued to network with some of my new friends. Finally, Peter Levin, gave an engaging closing essay, and Taylor McLemore and Tom Chikoore closed out the program with a warm “thank you” and a request that we go out and “build things”.
My Techstars Patriot Boot Camp experience was simply amazing! I want to say “thank you” to Taylor and the entire Techstars crew who organized the event; to all the speakers and mentors; to GWU, Opower, and 1776 who hosted us; to the all sponsors; and to my peers and fellow attendees. Ultimately, we all came together to create a very unique experience around the idea that those with military experience are in a unique position to support each other as they follow their entrepreneurial passions.
If you have the opportunity to attend a future Techstars Patriot Boot Camp, I highly recommend it!