This Entrepreneurship Program Taught Me The Skills To Build A Better Future

Elana Duffy presents her business at the demo day of NYU's Veteran Entrepreneur Training (VET) Program, Aug. 13, 2015.
Task & Purpose photo by Michael Lane Smith

“If you don’t apply for this, I don’t even know you anymore.”

Sometimes when Marine veterans talk, I listen. This particular Marine is an entrepreneur and something of a mentor when it comes to business, so I was inclined to tune in.

He told me to apply for a 10-week, part-time, entrepreneur certificate program for veterans at New York University Polytechnic over the summer. The brainchild of another Marine veteran, the Veteran Entrepreneur Training program turned out to be everything I needed and nothing I didn’t. Having considered business school multiple times, I kept coming back to feeling I just needed essentials, something to complement the skills I already had from both college and the Army. I didn’t want to be a strategy consultant or a marketing wiz, and I didn’t want to relearn leadership or team building. I had an idea for a business, but I needed just a little more knowledge in the right sectors.

The program was perfect because it took into account that all of the attendees were military veterans. It’s supported by NYU’s network of innovation incubators, and it was the first iteration of this veterans-only format. There were quick lectures on the basics we wouldn’t have learned in the military — like venture capital and legal documentation and what tax forms we needed to file — but the rest was focused on mentorship, milestones, and figuring out how to best use our skills as veterans to increase the chance of success. The incubator managers, all civilians, said it best: veterans moved faster, worked easier, resolved our issues decisively, and built teams more cohesively than our civilian entrepreneurs.

The first cohort of veterans to complete the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering Veteran Entrepreneur Training Program on graduation day, Aug. 13. 2015Photo courtesy of NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering

I, for one, reasoned that if I’d managed multiple deployments, getting blown up, daily convoys, and other high-pressure assignments, I could manage this. And if I couldn’t, my team members from the class would understand and give me a hand because we were all in the same boat. Never once did I feel in the course that I was competing with anyone; instead I felt like we could function as a small-teams unit.

It’s been awhile since I felt like that, and it was pretty great.

Don’t get me wrong, I already am a founder and minority partner in a writing communications firm and helped launch a charity racing team. I am not really “new” to the do-it-yourself party. But this was different. In those two cases, we hired accountants and lawyers and other professionals for technical details, and more notably, I wasn’t leading the charge for either organization.

Now I’m a chief executive officer. There’s a lot more of me — of my pride, of my money, of all of the emotions and efforts that you encounter when you put your best idea into action — on the line. If someone thinks your idea or your business is not going to work, it’s going to hurt a lot more. I have a team including an equal partner and a developer, both veterans, as well as a web designer. But everything is still much more personal this time. It’s terrifying. What if I fail?

Stress is also a constant companion. The Marine whose ceremonial sword is on my wall is now regularly woken up at some terrible hour to me popping my head up with a cry of, “Oh no … the emails!” in some sleep-riddled night terror. I must say this sort of beats the night terrors I had before, but somehow it’s slightly more embarrassing when you find yourself waking in a sweat because of imagined faulty market research rather than imagined gunfire.

But I’m also relieved because I’m doing something, and that something is mine. Succeed or fail, this program gave me the tools to feel like I had my team again, that team we come to rely upon so heavily in the service. In this course, I found my business partner, both of us entering with very similar ideas. I found mentors through this program dedicated to advising my company. I had incubator resources at my disposal, as the college incubator space offered its rolodex of legal, financial, and other business advisors and services. This course took my fears and my stress and showed me that I could use them to build something better. So I did.

Pathfinder — the idea I’ve nursed for over a year but this program finally nudged me to build — will help veterans of any age, race, gender, or era transition, as well as improve the overall community. It’s a review system, it’s a communications tool, and I’m very proud of what we are getting ready to officially launch in the fall. More importantly, I’m doing something I know fellow veterans need, something that many have said they want. It won’t make us millionaires, but it will serve a purpose. And as stressful as it is, that tangible, set purpose has provided therapeutic relief. I feel useful, I feel driven, and more motivated than I have in a long time.

Michael Cessaro, Elana Duffy, and Caroline Cessaro, the team behind Pathfinder, present their business idea on demo day, Aug. 13, 2015.Photo courtesy of NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering


And the best part of doing this through a veteran entrepreneur program is not only did I form my company, but I also know four other ingenious companies standing up that are powered by veteran brains. Health care, gaming, corporate leadership, and travel security all got a boost this summer as well. The team mentality holds strong: I’ll talk up their companies as readily as my own. Veterans support veterans, as well we should. None of us are in this alone, and this unity was driven home during the last 10 weeks.

Programs such as this one are spreading and for a good reason: Many veterans want to be empowered. They want to stand up for themselves, regardless of disability status or whatever someone along the way has told them they “can’t” do. We have a lot to contribute, and programs like these give us the knowledge to do so without spending two years learning about “synergy.” We veterans know how to build a team, so let us build one.

Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. It’s risky, it’s incredibly stressful, and the shouting matches with my partner about our shared “vision” can be pretty crazed. I don’t really recommend it for the faint of heart. But if you have a great idea, find this program or one like it near you. If another veteran has a great idea, get them involved and support them.

And, as my brand new company’s motto says: Build a better future.

Visit the website for more information on the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering Veteran Entrepreneur Program.

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith)

Three U.S. service members received non-life-threatening injuries after being fired on Monday by an Afghan police officer, a U.S. official confirmed.

The troops were part of a convoy in Kandahar province that came under attack by a member of the Afghan Civil Order Police, a spokesperson for Operation Resolute Support said on Monday.

Read More Show Less

Marine Maj. Jose J. Anzaldua Jr. spent more than three years during the height of the Vietnam War. Now, more than 45 years after his release, Sig Sauer is paying tribute to his service with a special gift.

Sig Sauer on Friday unveiled a unique 1911 pistol engraved with Anzaldua's name, the details of his imprisonment in Vietnam, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" accompanied by the POW-MIA flag on the grip to commemorate POW-MIA Recognition Day.

The gunmaker also released a short documentary entitled "Once A Marine, Always A Marine" — a fitting title given Anzaldua's courageous actions in the line of duty

Marine Maj. Jose Anzaldua's commemorative 1911 pistol

(Sig Sauer)

Born in Texas in 1950, Anzaldua enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968 and deployed to Vietnam as an intelligence scout assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

On Jan. 23, 1970, he was captured during a foot patrol and spent 1,160 days in captivity in various locations across North Vietnam — including he infamous Hỏa Lò Prison known among American POWs as the "Hanoi Hilton" — before he was freed during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973.

Anzaldua may have been a prisoner, but he never stopped fighting. After his release, he received two Bronze Stars with combat "V" valor devices and a Prisoner of War Medal for displaying "extraordinary leadership and devotion to his companions" during his time in captivity. From one of his Bronze Star citations:

Using his knowledge of the Vietnamese language, he was diligent, resourceful, and invaluable as a collector of intelligence information for the senior officer interned in the prison camp.

In addition, while performing as interpreter for other United States prisoners making known their needs to their captors, [Anzaldua] regularly, at the grave risk of sever retaliation to himself, delivered and received messages for the senior officer.

On one occasion, when detected, he refused to implicate any of his fellow prisoners, even though severe punitive action was expected.

Anzaldua also received a Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroism in December 1969, when he entered the flaming wreckage of a U.S. helicopter that crashed nearr his battalion command post in the country's Quang Nam Province and rescued the crew chief and a Vietnamese civilian "although painfully burned himself," according to his citation.

After a brief stay at Camp Pendleton following his 1973 release, Anzaldua attended Officer Candidate School at MCB Quantico, Virginia, earning his commission in 1974. He retired from the Corps in 1992 after 24 years of service.

Sig Sauer presented the commemorative 1911 pistol to Anzaldua in a private ceremony at the gunmaker's headquarters in Newington, New Hampshire. The pistol's unique features include:

  • 1911 Pistol: the 1911 pistol was carried by U.S. forces throughout the Vietnam War, and by Major Anzaldua throughout his service. The commemorative 1911 POW pistol features a high-polish DLC finish on both the frame and slide, and is chambered in.45 AUTO with an SAO trigger. All pistol engravings are done in 24k gold;
  • Right Slide Engraving: the Prisoner of War ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor and "Major Jose Anzaldua" engravings;
  • Top Slide Engraving: engraved oak leaf insignia representing the Major's rank at the time of retirement and a pair of dog tags inscribed with the date, latitude and longitude of the location where Major Anzaldua was taken as a prisoner, and the phrase "You Are Not Forgotten" taken from the POW-MIA flag;
  • Left Side Engraving: the Vietnam War service ribbon inset, with USMC Eagle Globe and Anchor engraving;
  • Pistol Grips: anodized aluminum grips with POW-MIA flag.

The top leaders of a Japan-based Marine Corps F/A-18D Hornet squadron were fired after an investigation into a deadly mid-air collision last December found that poor training and an "unprofessional command climate" contributed to the crash that left six Marines dead, officials announced on Monday.

Five Marines aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules and one Marine onboard an F/A-18D Hornet were killed in the Dec. 6, 2018 collision that took place about 200 miles off the Japanese coast. Another Marine aviator who was in the Hornet survived.

Read More Show Less

A former Army soldier was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Thursday for stealing weapons from Fort Bliss, along with other charges.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Air Force photo illustration/Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Department of Veterans Affairs released an alarming report Friday showing that at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017, with little sign that the crisis is abating despite suicide prevention being the VA's top priority.

Although the total population of veterans declined by 18% during that span of years, more than 6,000 veterans died by suicide annually, according to the VA's 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.

Read More Show Less