Accelerators as start-up infrastructure for veteran entrepreneurs
“I would absolutely encourage veterans to pursue this path…If you can live with the fact that you might fail, and that’s ok…you can do it…there is no better status symbol right now than to be a veteran entrepreneur. People want us to succeed…we have spent careers defending the American Dream of business ownership, and now it is our time to participate in that dream of business ownership.”
– Craig Cummings, Co-Founder RideScout
Research Project Goals
The goal of this research is to understand veteran motivations, to identify problems, and determine meaningful solutions that provide structured programs, networks and advice for veterans. This project is significant in that it applies a structured research approach to address a global veteran issue: veteran under/unemployment.
Whilst there is substantial activity, research and structured programs to promote veteran entrepreneurship in the United States, little research, thought, and effort has occurred locally to understand and address this critical employment (and resultant mental health) issue within this elite community.
This research will apply a critical analysis to inform real world efforts that have the potential to benefit the wider community, especially in regional areas where veterans often return after service. It will apply a critical lens to Australia’s start-up accelerator ecosystem with a view to capturing insight that can be used to shape a uniquely structured accelerator program that directly addresses the unique needs of veterans.
It is expected that the research will apply to both civilian and international audiences.
Entrepreneurship plays a significant role in economic growth by creating jobs, which means more employment and an improved economy.
Research Project Background
As a career path, entrepreneurship may be attractive for veterans because they possess a desire to achieve and are at ease with uncertain situations. An additional motivation may be that they are dissatisfied with civilian life. Yet whilst veterans may acquire technical and leadership skills from their service, they may have little idea concerning specific entrepreneurial tasks, such as developing a business plan.
Public infrastructures - such as accelerators and incubators - to support innovative entrepreneurship are among the instruments that governments deploy to strengthen entrepreneurship and innovation. Such infrastructures act as intermediaries to prepare companies to produce and commercialize their products or services.
In the United States, structured programs, accelerators, networks, and legislation such as the Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999 have fostered a mutually beneficial entrepreneurial ecosystem for the veteran community, however, to date Australia’s approach to fostering veteran entrepreneurship has been at best ad hoc.
Start-up accelerators and incubators play a vital role in building entrepreneurial capability and self-efficacy by placing entrepreneurs within an ecosystem that includes other entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, commercial partners, research institutions and an array of human talent through structured programs focused on the entrepreneur’s success. However, a recent informal audit of Australia’s start-up accelerator ecosystem revealed a notable absence of some fundamental knowledge and skills that typically underpin start-up success - knowledge and skills that may be all too familiar to civilian cohorts yet remain foreign concepts to veterans.
Success of a start-up accelerator or incubator is in no small part impacted by how the program is structured to address the specific needs of the target industry vertical and cohort. Fostering entrepreneurial self-efficacy (ESE) for veterans - strengthening a person’s beliefs that he or she is capable of successfully performing the various roles and tasks of entrepreneurship – can only be achieved by identifying knowledge, skill, network and ecosystem gaps, and then tailoring structured accelerator programs and networks that bridge these gaps for veteran entrepreneurs.
Research Project Flow
Following the literature review, the research will include quantitative and qualitative digital surveys, facilitated workshops, and one-on-one interviews with various stakeholders, including:
• Members of the innovation ecosystem (entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, etc.)
• Active duty members of the Australia Defence Force (Army, Navy, Air Force, S.F.)
• Established members of the veteran business community (founders, networks)
• Founders of start-up accelerators and incubators (Slingshot, Blue Chilli etc.)
At the core of the research is a survey approach involving a TBD number of veterans who are either considering opening their own business, have had their own business, or have their own business.
The questionnaire will include closed-ended questions to capture specific details as well as open-ended questions to obtain a broad range of expressions from the respondents.
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(2) Boldon, N and R Maury (2017). Bridging the gap: Motivations, challenges and successes of veteran entrepreneurs. Operation Vetrepreneurship Series, Interim Report, Center of Excellence for Veteran Entrepreneurship, Nov. 2017.
(3) Cater, J and Young, M (2020). U.S. Veterans as emerging entrepreneurs: Self-efficacy, intentions and challenges. Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship, Vol. 25, No. 2.
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