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Military Experience Wanted

When Helder Machado worked in the corporate world, he was told by more than one boss to put everything he had learned in the Army National Guard aside because it didn't apply to his field of information technology. So, he learned to compartmentalize his two specialties and keep them separate in his mind.

After getting laid off from his corporate job, Machado decided he wanted to be his own boss. His company, Machado Consulting, has provided managed services to small and medium sized companies in the Worcester area for 15 years now. But it wasn't until he was at a meeting with other entrepreneurs that someone said to him, "Why aren't you running your organization like a battalion?" when it finally clicked, he said.

"I'm a military officer, a lieutenant colonel. I've had so much training, but I never made connection of how to do that in the corporate world," he said. "As soon as that clicked, it's been amazing."

After that, he started instituting after-action reviews, focusing on what his company did well, and working on its shortcomings.

Machado hopes to help other entrepreneurial active military members and veterans make those same connections between their military work and the business world through a new program hosted at Hopkinton incubator TechSandBox. This month, TechSandBox launched the program, which is geared towards encouraging networking, mentoring and advising for veteran entrepreneurs, with the goal of giving them a community of like-minded peers to support one another when building their small businesses.

A veteran innovation network

helder wbjThe program, which is funded through a joint $53,101 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and MassDevelopment, grew out of a desire to tap into an entrepreneurial veteran population in MetroWest and across New England, said Katie Stebbins, assistant secretary of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship for the commonwealth. Stebbins came up with the idea for TechSandBox to do this program after realizing there was a need to build a network of veteran entrepreneurs within the state's innovation community.

"Veterans appreciate having a community, and supporting each other in ways they can understand from being a vet and having that shared experience," said Stebbins.

According to the 2013 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, the share of new entrepreneurs in the U.S. that were military veterans fell from 10.2 percent in 2003 to 4.8 percent in 2013. The report also found the entrepreneurship rate among veterans had declined from 0.28 percent in 2012 to 0.23 percent in 2013.

Rising veteran entrepreneurial funding

The Massachusetts office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, for its part, has tailored its offerings to cater specifically to the entrepreneurial veteran population. In its 2016 fiscal year, the SBA gave about $34.3 million in loans to veteran entrepreneurs, a 42-percent increase in dollar amount over 2015, when it lent just over $24 million. This increase was partly due to some advantageous lending programs the SBA offered in its last fiscal year that were specifically geared towards veterans. While the fees for both banks and entrepreneurs were waived for all loans less than $150,000 last year, the SBA did offer some incentives that would benefit veterans directly. Through SBA's express program, veterans could take out loans for $350,000 or less without paying a fee, and pay half the regular fee on loans valued between $150,000 and $5 million.

In this fiscal year, the bank fee was reinstated for loans under $150,000, and the cap on paying half a borrower fee was lowered from $5 million to $500,000. Those advantages are available to military veterans, as well as National Guard, reservists and military spouses. In addition to its loan programs, veterans can also take advantage of SBA's Boots to Business program. "When you look at the skill set that people learn through military experience, it translates well into entrepreneurship," said Robert Nelson, the Massachusetts SBA director. "That's something we see a lot, when we talk to veterans."

Barbara Finer, founder and CEO of TechSandBox, said it was important to create a program that catered to the values being in the military instills in people, she said.

"Veterans are already trained in leadership and in thinking on their feet," she said. TechSandBox's program is meant to be used in conjunction with other programs, like the ones offered by SBA, but its program will specifically cater to entrepreneurial veterans who work in clean tech, said Barry Rosenbloom, veteran community development manager at TechSandBox. Rosenbloom, a U.S. Army veteran, was part of the volunteer committee of military veterans and startup experts who conducted outreach and an initial assessment to identify how they could best serve the veteran community.

Through the program, TechSandBox will work with the veteran community and supporting organizations to document veterans' needs, offer relevant programming, and provide a network for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs. The grant from MassTech and MassDevelopment will allow for better research and community outreach into the needs of veterans pursuing technology entrepreneurships, hosting meetup events, and the production of a resource guide for interested veterans.

The philosophical applications

When Cameron Carey served in the Navy in the late 1960s, he was a navigator, charged with making sure he got ships where they needed to go, when they needed to get there.

Today, Carey is the founder and president of Sustainable Energy Solutions, a renewable energy provider in Northborough. When asked if his entrepreneurial venture relates at all to his military experience, he said only on a philosophical level, because as a navigator, you're always charting out a path towards getting where you need to go. It's the same thing with entrepreneurship, he said.

"The idea is that when you're in an entrepreneurial situation, you don't know quite what to do. You have to have some fixation on where you're going, and some way to track how you're doing in terms of progress, are you getting there or not," said Carey. "You have to have some sense of what the unknown is, what's ahead of you, and you have to get your way through it, to make sure you're on your track."

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