The City of Fort Walton Beach, Florida and Miami incubator and accelerator Venture Hive are partnering to offer an innovative accelerator and pre-accelerator to help military veterans transition to entrepreneurship, with programs beginning this summer.
Venture Hive founder Dr. Susan Amat thinks veterans have a skill set that is readily transferable to entrepreneurship. “One of the important things about this population is that… they already have incredible leadership ability that they’ve demonstrated,” she says. In addition, the discipline and willingness to work hard instilled by the military can also serve well in the fast-paced milieu of business startups. Creating a welcoming space among their peers is part of the plan. “We want to be a place with people who understand what they’re going through,” she says. “Sometimes the best entrepreneurial ideas come from challenges that we ourselves are having.”
There are a number of incubators and accelerators across the country that specialize in helping veterans start their own businesses, including Techstars’ Patriot Boot Camp, The Bunker, and EBV, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, which runs programs at universities. The difference in the Venture Hive Veterans Program, according to Amat, is that this accelerator will help veteran entrepreneurs take their small businesses from small startups to competing in a global marketplace. Based in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, the new program is now accepting applications for its first class.
Amat founded the Venture Hive incubator and accelerator (which is open to all business owners) in Miami in 2012. Entrepreneurs from around the world have attended the program, which currently hosts 31 companies, but the focus of Venture Hive is on developing and licensing entrepreneurial education programs. Amat says their incubator is the lab where they test new ideas to grow and improve their educational offerings.
Amat saw an opportunity to create a second face-to-face incubator program in Fort Walton Beach, which is close to Elgin Air Force Base and the Air Force Special Operations Command. “There is just an incredible number of highly educated science and technology folks coming from the bases,” says Amat. “By working with Fort Walton Beach to really connect the dots across many different bases … we’re going to be able to serve the veteran population in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
The Venture Hive Veterans Program will run a pre-accelerator beginning in mid-July which, Amat says, “will focus on people with ideas to help them really make sure the foundation is in place, to take them through to minimum viable product.” She defines a “minimum viable product” as “a product that is usable and can be sold in the market, but it is not your clean and final consumer product with all the bells and whistles.” Veterans will meet twice a week for three months, but there is no residency requirement, so she expects this program to draw regional applicants from nearby Alabama and Georgia, as well as North Florida. Businesses owned by veterans and their spouses are eligible for the pre-accelerator. “Our goal is that, if a veteran has a great idea, we can give them the education and support they need to take it as far as they can,” she says.
In contrast, the full accelerator program, which will welcome its first cohort of entrepreneurs this August, is a full-time program that requires participants to relocate to Fort Walton Beach. Businesses must be veteran-led to be eligible. Amat sees this program as more of a graduate-level incubator. “The accelerator is for companies that already have a consumer product in the market,” she says. “We really focus on moving them from being startups to being businesses.” She notes, “Being a startup founder and being the CEO of a global business are very different things.”
Both the program for veterans and Venture Hive in Miami don’t offer funding or take equity. “Because we don’t take equity there’s no conflict of interest,” says Amat. She feels that helps her give unbiased advice when founders come to her with questions, since she has no financial stake in their ventures.
Amat is excited to provide veterans with big, scalable ideas the support they need to take them from the startup mindset to launching themselves as global ventures. She adds, “Our goal is that, if a veteran has a great idea, we can give them the education and support they need to take it as far as they can.”