Guest Blog Post: Techstars’ No-Nonsense Basic Training for Veteran Entrepreneurs - A PBC Review

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]Tyler Matthews is an Army Captain and the Chief of Staff of SoloPro. He attended Patriot Boot Camp in July, 2015 at the University of North Carolina.[/author_info] [/author]

I spent last weekend at the University of North Carolina attending Patriot Boot Camp (PBC), a Techstars backed summit for servicemembers and veterans interested in learning how to launch and build technology startups.

PBC 2015 - Chapel Hill and Durham Road Signs

As a transitioning Army officer interested in entrepreneurship and tech, PBC was just what I needed. From the Pledge of Allegiance Friday morning to Retired Army General George Casey’s keynote address Sunday, this three day “Boot Camp” was a high octane crash course in the fundamentals of starting startups.

The purpose of the event was to equip veterans and military spouses with the knowledge and tools necessary to succeed as entrepreneurs.  Having recognized that veterans possess traits and skills essential to entrepreneurial success -- among them adaptability, planning, dedication, discipline, and relentless resourcefulness -- Techstars set out to add to their foundation by providing Vets with startup education, community, and mentorship.

But unlike many other well-intentioned veteran-centered events, Boot Camp was highly organized, deliberate, and pragmatic from start to finish.  It was a no-nonsense event with a task and purpose for every minute on the agenda.

Throughout the weekend, Techstars presented us with extended access to experts across the startup community. For me, the highlights stemmed from the organizers’ ability to smoothly package and deliver three things that those who have served are well familiar with: training, coaching, and mentoring.

1. Relevant Training.

Just like military leaders must know doctrine to plan operations and accomplish their missions, entrepreneurs must also master the fundamentals of building sound businesses that can grow and scale. Patriot Boot Camp was committed to education from the outset. Weeks ahead of the conference, participants received an extensive reading list from which to prepare. Each day at the event, CEOs, founders, investors, and mentors led classes and seminars. The material was vast in terms of depth and breadth.

Tommy Sowers (CEO of SoloPro) taught us how to leverage the foundations of military planning in an early stage startup. Dave Drach (VP of Techstars) taught the importance of finding product-market fit, and being careful not to over-execute too quickly. Leaning on the foundations of Steve Blank, Rob Johnson of Techstars taught the process of customer discovery and development, and Taylor McLemore of PBC covered how startups can “rock the pitch” to investors. That was just the first eight hours.

 PBC 2015 - Tommy CEO of SoloPro

In days 2-3 we got an introduction to Product Management from Anthony Pompliano of Facebook, advice on best practices fundraising from local venture capitalists, and a crash course in digital marketing.

By the end of the weekend, we had been schooled in the principles of Blank, Feld, and Ries, walked through the business model canvas, discussed product-user feedback loops, and covered the highlights of lean startups and analytics. The education alone was worth the trip. But Boot Camp did not stop there.

2. Expert Individual and Collective Coaching.

The quality of the cohort of advisors in attendance was stellar, and coaching entrepreneurs was a key focus of the event. In the first 48 hours I received coaching on how to outline a business idea, conduct customer discovery, pitch to investors, raise funding, build a team, split-test, and grow. Attendees who came to the conference with an idea left with a gameplan for execution.

PBC 2015 - Dave Cass of Uvize

My favorite sessions were those led by domain experts. Taylor McLermore’s deliberate coaching on rocking a pitch, Corey Post’s digital marketing talk, Tak Lo’s instruction on the importance of mastering e-mail efficiency and with tact, and Dave Drach’s coaching on early stage sales were all especially helpful.

3. Unparalleled Mentoring.

But for me, the highlight of PBC -- and what makes this conference so special -- is the emphasis on mentorship. Dave Cass, CEO of Uvize (a mentorship platform), told all of us early and often to take advantage of the mentors who had traveled from all over the world (Bay Area to London) to help veterans and spouses. The 50+ mentors included a blend of investors, founders, and educators, and hailed from the likes of Techstars, UNC, Google, and Facebook.

Each afternoon -- in what from a distance could be mistaken for speed dating -- PBC veterans sat down with mentors for one on one conversations about their products, their ideas, their businesses, and their transitions from the military to the startup space. These high impact sessions were half an hour each, but each mentor that I met with in these sessions (10 in total), without exception, has already followed-up and promised to keep in touch. The sincerity, authenticity, and “give first” mentality of the mentors at PBC was unbelievable, and difficult to imagine in or out of the military.

Mentorship Sessions at Patriot Boot Camp

To those in attendance, the outcome of these sessions was clear: PBC and Techstars are creating a tight-knit family of capable veterans, spouses, and mentors who will benefit from network effects and the support of one another as they grow and scale.

And there were many other highlights: In the evenings we were exposed to incredible startup hubs like American Underground (Durham) and Launch Chapel Hill, and to the world class facilities and offerings of UNC and the Kenan-Flager Business School. And more importantly, during the final day’s pitch competition we were exposed to other founders and entrepreneurs launching businesses that will change the world.

Onward to Motor City.

PBC and Techstars ascribe to a simple mantra: Give First. Their values -- education, community, and mentorship -- were clearly communicated and reiterated throughout the conference. At the conference selfless service and energy are palpable and ubiquitous.

Through outstanding training, committed coaching, and deliberate mentoring through a relentlessly focused agenda, Patriot Boot Camp delivered.

Just like new Soldiers must go to Basic Training to learn to shoot, move, and communicate, entrepreneurs must master the basics. To that end, Techstars has succeeded in building a Boot Camp capable of providing outstanding training and mentorship in a brief period of time.

Our country needs more Vets in the technology startup space. Thankfully, Techstars has succeeded in creating a conference in true startup fashion that is scalable and repeatable, and will be running more boot camps in the months and years to come.

The next one is this October in Detroit. If you know of a veteran or a military spouse that wants to scale their startup savvy rapidly, urge them to enlist in the next Patriot Boot Camp. They could make no finer choice.


Tyler Matthews is an active duty Army captain. Everything here is his own opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of his unit or the U.S. Army.