Veterans Talk Business at Collective Hustle’s Military-Focused Startup Panel

Collective Hustle hosted veteran-business owners and investors in a panel discussion geared toward veterans seeking entrepreneurship.

Starting a business is hard, but some things make it harder. Like being a woman, and often, being a veteran.

That is why Collective Hustle hosted a Startups, Investors and Veterans Panel to give local veterans some business advice.

Coinciding with the opening of Hygge’s colorful, brand new East Charlotte space, startup veterans and army veterans chatted and networked before the panel began.

Panelists included:

  • Kiah Tolliver, Navy veteran and co-founder and CTO of cannabis-industry software service C-Trax
  • Liz Marion, a military spouse and founder of the Milspo Project
  • Jon Boggiano, an Army veteran and founder of early-childhood education technology company VersaMe
  • Brandon Shelton, an Army veteran and founder of Task Force x Capital, a veteran-focused entrepreneurial consulting and venture capital firm

The Importance

Collective Hustle Founder Sam Smith organized the event. She said it was important to host something like this because she herself is a military spouse. For her, being a veteran and being a woman in the entrepreneurial community share commonalities.

“There’s just this underlying theme of the veteran experience that is very similar to how the female experience is within the entrepreneur or startup space,” she said. “So I thought the correlation would really help our community have an understanding of something that they haven’t experienced quite yet. ”

There’s not enough crossover, she said, and she wanted to share experiences so the community can better understand individual circumstances.

“They don’t quite have the same type of relationship with either the companies that we’re building or just the experience itself,” Smith said. “So trying to cross those different bounds is something that we really tried to do at Collective Hustle, and I think it’s a great platform to bring together two different types of identities to explore how we might be able to see the startup space in a new way.”

Collective Hustle hosted veteran-business owners and investors in a panel discussion geared toward veterans seeking entrepreneurship.

The Advice

She said this is why she had these specific individuals on the panel. If anyone understands the struggles of life after being in the military, it’s military veterans themselves. Shelton told the audience that people shouldn’t be just their service. He said when he looks to invest in veterans, he’s not concerned about what they did when they served. Because it’s not a factor in their business growth.

“I’m not hiding military service but I’m not defined by that,” he said. “I respect it, it’s great, but I have not seen any math externally or myself that says your military accomplishments correlate to business success. And I think that’s a really hard thing to do, and I don’t think the government is going to solve it.”

Marion, who also works for Bunker Labs – a national non-profit that helps veterans and their spouses find the quickest way to business success. She helped to create The Milspo Project to connect, empower and inspire military spouses in business ventures. She said that military life and afterward can be isolating. It’s all about finding a community, which is what Milspo Project does online.

The Community

“I think that being an entrepreneur is really lonely, and being a military spouse is really lonely. A lot of it is on you to find your tribe,” she said. “The best way to do that now is all online, so you know, part of the thing is most projects we do is we are a complete virtual community for military spouses around the world.”

However, she encouraged military spouses to look for online communities outside of just ones centered around them being a military spouse.

“Everyone is just supportive, so finding a community is really important,” Marion said. “What you don’t want to do is find a toxic community, and that is really easy to do.”

Boggiano, on what gives businesses in general a competitive edge, said that raising money is a power dynamic. He added that it’s important to be realistic and to stand out.

“Make sure you have a fallback plan,” he said. “How are you going to be strong? How are you going to be memorable?”

Collective Hustle is a local coalition of founders and investors that seeks to broaden gender diversity within Charlotte’s startup scene.