Panelists discuss veteran entrepreneurship


Shawn Paik

Left to right- Alex Patterson, Reshma Saujani, Mark Rockefeller and Brittany Laughlin spoke during the Veteran panel at the Leslie E-Lab.

Andrew Mei, Contributing Writer

Veterans in the NYU community attended an Oct. 15 panel hosted by the NYU Veterans Initiative to discuss perceptions of veterans as entrepreneurs, the way in which military experience can be used as a branding strategy and opportunities for female veterans in tech.

The panel, titled “How To Turn Military Success Into Business Success,” featured Mark Rockefeller, co-founder and CEO of StreetShares, Inc; Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code; and Alex Patterson, vice president of Tough Mudder.

The discussion touched on the risks of starting a business, especially for veterans who are returning from service and want to pursue entrepreneurship.

Returning medic and Wagner graduate student Bernard Ortega talked about the challenges that veterans face when they return from service.

“All veterans returning from service face a common challenge in the transition back into society,” Ortega said. “The three speakers here today are role models because of the risks they all took in pursuing their businesses, and the challenges that they overcame to succeed.”

The speakers discussed their experiences of quitting their jobs to pursue their startup dreams. Patterson said he joined Tough Mudder, a military-style obstacle course, after he quit his job as a lawyer and decided to pursue his passion in physical activity and community through fitness.

“It’s hard not knowing what to do next,” Patterson said. “Yet it is empowering to be in a place to make the rules for myself. After I hit a wall in my law career, I changed directions and took a leap in joining Tough Mudder.”

Rockefeller, a nine-year Air Force veteran, said he also left his job to follow his passion by starting StreetShares, Inc, an online interactive marketplace for small business loans.

“I left my high-paying, secure job as a Wall Street lawyer that supported a wife and three children because life is too short,” Rockefeller said. “We live in a great country, where we have an opportunity to create something new.”*

Saujani quit her job as a high profile lawyer to start Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization working to close the gender gap in technology and engineering.

“All three of us here are here because we hated what we were doing,”  Saujani said. “Passion is not overrated, and finding what you love to do is definitely important.”

Wagner graduate student and veteran Leslie Williams, who returned from service in 2010, hoped to get advice about finding a way into the film industry.

“Joining the army gave me the opportunity to get an education at NYU, and the army was the bright light in my life that allowed me the chance to fulfill my dreams here,” Williams said. “Failure for me is not an option now. I am willing to accept the risks and challenges that are in front of me.”

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 16 print edition. Email Andrew Mei at [email protected]

*Correction: An earlier version of this article misquoted Mark Rockefeller. WSN regrets this error.