Where Veterans Can Earn Their Startup Stripes

At a new lab from NYU Tandon, military vets will pick up the tools to become tech entrepreneurs

Former Army Ranger Tim Lawton at the new Veterans Future Lab in Industry City (Photo courtesy of NYU Tandon School of Engineering)

Given his previous experience and training, you’d think Tim Lawton already had what it took to start his own company. He led hundreds of Army Rangers in Iraq and Afghanistan, earned an MBA from MIT, and worked as a banker at Barclays and UBS. But he’s glad he prepared even more. Lawton went through a ten-week boot camp for startup candidates, the Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. “While those experiences are great and they’ve certainly helped me in my journey, there is nothing else like the experience of starting a company from scratch,” Lawton told The Bridge. “There are so many unknowns and hidden obstacles.”

Lawton spoke of his entrepreneurial journey this week at the ribbon-cutting for the Veterans Future Lab, a technology start-up hub to provide mentoring and support for U.S. military vets in the early stages of launching their own companies. Supported by the Empire State Development Corp. and the Barclays banking company, the new lab will provide dedicated space and equipment for the veterans in Industry City in Sunset Park. The new-business incubator, the first of its kind, joins a fleet of related facilities operated by NYU Tandon, including the Urban Future Lab, the Digital Future Lab and the Data Future Lab.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, at right, is shown equipment at the new Veterans Future Lab in Industry City, with heads of of Barclays, NYU and other officials (Photo courtesy of NYU Tandon)

About one-third of recent veterans have hopes of starting a business, yet only about 5% have actually done so in recent years. The new lab aims to give them the additional tools and the training they need to launch businesses. “It’s our responsibility to ensure that the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom receive the support they need to be successful when they return from the front lines,” stated Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who attended the lab’s opening.

In Lawton’s case, the NYU program helped him and his co-founder Naira Musallam as they launched Frontier7, a company that provides market research using artificial intelligence and the latest thinking in consumer psychology. “The program at NYU helped my co-founder and I navigate some of those early-stage challenges, guided us in our thinking, and opened us up to a much-needed network of people and resources,” he said.

Examining an etching machine at the center are Craig Wilson (at rear), who will help run the veterans program, with Mark Thain, director of social innovation for Barclays (Photo by Arden Phillips)

The new lab will be run with a personal touch, its organizers say. Craig Wilson, the general manager of the Digital Future Lab, will also play an active role in running the veterans lab. “We want to know what they’re good at and what they’re not good at, so it’s very tailored and very individualized,” said Wilson. “We do regular check-ins with them. And those check-ins will vary based on the person.”

The new lab will have hardware as well. “They have access to this space with a milling machine, a laser etcher, a larger and smaller 3D printer,” said Wilson. Course fees, books, and pre-approved startup expenses are all covered by the program. The new center has put out a call for applications and will probably admit about 12 startup companies in the next round, he said. Veterans can also apply to a scholarship program called A Bridge to NYU Tandon, in which students with non-engineering degrees can earn masters degrees in a tech-related field.

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“Historically, veterans have shown an immense entrepreneurial spirit, founding a wide range of successful startups,” said Katepalli Sreenivasan, Tandon’s dean, in a statement. “The Veterans Future Lab was conceived as a way to foster that spirit and encourage veterans to combine technology with skills learned while serving in the military. I look forward to seeing what these exceptional men and women will create. Our experience so far as been amazingly positive.”

Lawton, right, and his Frontier7 co-founder Naira Musallam got help through the NYU program for veterans (Photo by Tyler Woods/Technical.ly Brooklyn)

Arden Phillips is a New York-based writer and a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where she received a degree in Television, Radio, and Film.