On May 11, 2017, I took part in a pilot a program called WeWork Veterans in Residence in Denver.
The program was founded to support military veterans and spouses who are preoccupied with finding a new purpose, a new mission, a new way to serve and lead after military service. I believed the greatest impediment facing these veterans and spouses had little to do with ability, grit, or resources. I thought it had an awful lot to do with community.
“I believed the greatest impediment facing these veterans and spouses had an awful lot to do with community.”
At the same time, I was convinced that the last thing the world needed was another veteran jobs program. There are over 45,000 veteran service organizations (VSOs for short, a catchall for nonprofits with a veteran-related mission) in the US. More than 4,500 VSOs are headquartered in the state of Colorado alone—more than in any other state. Most of them are cripplingly under-resourced and they’re all competing for the same scarce funding.
Instinctively, I felt that what veterans needed most was simply a home base to gather and reconnect for a new type of mission and a new type of leadership—economic.
An objective came into focus: bringing veteran innovators, creators, and entrepreneurs together under one roof, giving them workspace, mentorship, and connectedness, and cultivating an environment where we could propel each other forward as local business leaders. We didn’t need another 501(c)(3). We needed an uber-connected environment. Enter WeWork.
Creating a base camp for our endeavors
Together, we created a base camp for veteran business leaders inside of WeWork’s local member communities, with the underlying support of the 160,000-person global WeWork community. Through a competitive application process, the program started with 12 local veteran entrepreneurs whose backgrounds were as diverse as their businesses:
- Five branches of service
- Ranks ranging from E-3 to O-6
- Two military spouses
- Businesses that include two urban farms, a virtual reality platform for STEM education, digital storytelling, a mobile mentorship application, a veteran drone alliance, a sandal company, a fractional HR firm, a design thinking workshop, a valet storage platform, an executive coach, and a cause-based branding firm
- College dropouts alongside Wharton MBAs
- Millennials, Gen-Xers, and Baby Boomers
For the past six months, we’ve convened weekly. We coalesce as a group for four hours every Wednesday, focused and ready to listen and contribute. We invite in mentors, community leaders, investors, VSOs, and fellow veterans.
We created ground rules, although, as a group of veterans, there was already an implied set of standards and rules of conduct that we never had to discuss. There are no egos, no ranks. There are plenty of jokes. And there is always an enormous amount of respect given and received.
For many of us, it’s the first time we’ve felt really connected to other human beings since we transitioned out of military service—and some of us have been out of the military for decades.
“For many of us, it’s the first time we’ve felt really connected to other human beings since we transitioned out of military service—and some of us have been out of the military for decades.”
The program also initiated a new narrative about veterans. Each of the 12 veterans selected for the inaugural cohort is exceptional, high-functioning, successful in his/her own right, possessing grit in spades. Like most veterans I know.
We started WeWork Veterans in Residence knowing that, in Sebastian Junger’s words, “Human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do, they need to feel authentic in their lives, and they need to feel connected to others.”
Outcomes of emphasizing community
The outcomes of Veterans in Residence have been measurable from the get-go. In fact, it’s been hard to keep up with just how much we’ve accomplished over the past 26 weeks.
New programs have been built. Apps have found centerstage in very public forums. Teams have scaled. New businesses started, pivoted. Products found their market fit. Boards have been dissolved and rebuilt. New partnerships were forged. Leases were signed. Deals were won.
More importantly, though, lifelong friendships have been forged. Mentors have been found. Lives have been changed.
Finding your peers and mentor circles is important for any entrepreneur. For our 12 veteran entrepreneurs, they found a home, a tribe. I’m proud to celebrate the stories of these 12 remarkable veteran entrepreneurs, to welcome new veterans to the program, and to honor military veterans everywhere on Nov. 11.