Convergence: Retired Veterans, Private Sector Startups & Me
Each and every day, hundreds of our US military service members begin a new chapter in life when they begin the transition to retirement. This includes all the service branches including Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marines (Oorah!), and most often, retirement leads to each Veteran seeking job opportunities within the private sector within their local communities. For other Vets, the path leads in a different direction – becoming an entrepreneur. This means defining, planning, organizing, funding, and working to start their own business endeavor. And regardless which of the above two paths are chosen, all these Vets face many challenges inherent in transitioning from a structured, regimented, process-and-acronym-for-everything world to an often looser, political, and open private sector business environment. Two very different worlds.
With over 30 years’ experience in Information Technology and solutions delivery, I am responsible for conceiving and co-founding ClearCadence (www.ClearCadence.com), an early-2012 new business startup. We are a successful, Tampa-based professional services firm that delivers solutions to all the major business verticals specializing in automating and improving manual, inefficient processes, digitizing strategic company assets and content, and integrating with mission critical systems. My passion and core responsibilities essentially include all facets of operating and running a business including Sales, Marketing, Partner Channels, HR, Operations, IT, Client Management and Delivery, and everything in-between. Before ClearCadence, I held numerous executive-level positions with several small, medium, and large software companies, and before that I worked for a large Insurance corporation where I started my career as an IT applications developer.
Over the last couple of years, I came to the conclusion that it was time to focus some of my skills to a worthy cause and somehow give back to the community. Making this decision was the easy part, however what I did not realize was how hard it would be finding a cause to focus on, especially one that marries my talents with the people who could benefit from them the most. I talked to my friends about some ideas – nothing resonated. I performed web searches and traversed through numerous time/talent/cause hubs - some looked interesting, many did not, some required simple “grunt” work, some were sports-related, and some were much high-level and involved roles such as director-of-this, or coordinator-of-that. So, I was stuck in between making the decision to give back, and being able to identify an actual cause where I could begin to contribute and where I could really flex my talents. One key criteria I did have was finding one that was somehow in support of our military. I personally never served, however my late father, Thomas Addison Dye Jr, was a career Army veteran who retired Lt. Colonel and served tours in both WW2 and Korea as a tank battalion commander. Like most veterans, he never spoke much about his war experiences, nor did I ever really appreciate his work and sacrifices, so finding a cause within the military was highest on my list. Oh, and did I mention – as a two-year old, my first haircut was administered by a prisoner on the base at Ft. Leavenworth Kansas, where I was born (really Mom!?). Wow, different times.
Also of interest within my decision criteria was not following the herd: I wanted to pick something kind of new, that not a lot of people were already involved in, and something I could sort of call my own. I knew it was out there, but how could I find it?
Skill, Fate, or Destiny - Someone was Watching Over Me
One day, as many business people do, I was perusing around LinkedIn looking to expand my business network and by chance I happened onto the profile page of what appeared to be an interesting, senior IT executive here in the Tampa Bay area. I did not know this particular person, but as I read through the profile I noted they seemed to have been in many interesting companies and roles, be networked with a significant amount of influential business people, and most interestingly he happened to be a 1st level connection to my brother. I don’t know why but something was just compelling me to learn more about this person. As I stared at the profile further, I decided to reach out to my brother and see what he knew about him. As it turned out, he had worked for him on an IT gig a few years ago, he was a good guy, very smart and knowledgeable, and essentially a thumbs-up. So, with this newfound information, I decided that I would use my brother as a conduit and arrange to meet the executive for lunch. Within a week or two later, I was able to make introductions and meet him over an informative and productive networking-get-to-know-you-type session. At the end of the meal, we agreed to stay in contact and who knows – sometime soon we may be able to work together somehow and leverage off each other. Mission accomplished!
Enter Operation Startup
After the networking lunch, several months passed and then one day I was contacted by the executive announcing that one of the business organizations he leads was aligning with Hillsborough Community College (HCC) for what appeared to be an interesting and worthy cause:
I would like to talk with you about a program that I am putting in place with HCC. They have won a grant to create an incubator for military vets and/or their spouses who are interested in starting their own businesses. The program is called Operation Startup.
I am leading an initiative inside Operation Startup called VETS (Veteran Executive Training Sessions). VETS is a roundtable format assessment of the participants business idea, plan, and model. We will also help them make the necessary contacts with customers, clients, channels, and contacts to increase success rates.
Take a look at it and let me know what you think. My “ask” of you is if you would be willing to participate in these sessions. It would take one day, every two months (last Friday of every other month starting in January). So, the first session is Jan 27th? Can you make it?
Huh? What is this?! Whoa!! Suddenly, out of the blue, dropping right out of the sky, I’m being asked to give my time and expertise to a cause that is in its infancy, sounds extremely compelling and interesting, and that could actually utilize my talents with Entrepreneurship and starting and operating businesses? AND ITS MILITARY FOCUSED! Am I dreaming this? Did I fall and hit my head and was hallucinating? No, it was all real and it became crystal clear - I have now found my cause.
What is It?
OPERATION STARTUP (OPSU, www.Operation-Startup.com) is a state-funded, business actuator providing the Tampa Bay Veteran start-up community with access to mentoring, educational programs, co-working, early stage business accelerator, events, and myriad networking opportunities. These services help mitigate factors that contribute to business failure, while increasing the likelihood of successful start-ups. Perhaps most importantly, the Operation Startup environment is sensitive to the needs of the military population, which helps facilitate a positive transition to civilian business conditions.
By drawing upon their successes, Hillsborough Community College and the Entrepreneur Collaboration Center (ECC) work together to encourage entrepreneurship in the community through:
Comprehensive academic programs, community events, and grant-funded projects
Active collaboration with 60+ regional partners
National recognition and awards from premier entrepreneurship organizations
The Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program
Operation Startup is managed and run by some truly amazing people who are dedicated to its success and growing it into a world-class, national presence. I am very privileged to be working with such a talented group, who also know how to be effective yet make things interesting and fun. I’ve also gotten to know, respect, and learn from other business advisors like myself who support the program.
Giving Back to a Worthy & Rewarding Cause
In January it will be my one-year anniversary working with the program as one of the key business advisors for the various Veteran Entrepreneurs, (“Vetrepeneurs”, as they are called) who regularly come through the program. What makes it so interesting and rewarding is that there are so many dimensions to each Veteran we support: their startup business idea, its maturity level and operational underpinnings (or lack thereof), and the background, intelligence, personality, and maturity of the Veteran themselves. And it’s not infrequent to digress and begin talking about their background and tours of duty when serving, their families, and goings-on with them at any particular interval. I find it sort of like the television program “Shark Tank” meets “The Lean Business Canvas” meets “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. And most importantly, I very quickly found that my varied background and career experiences fits synergistically and so natural and perfect in providing these Vets the support they are seeking. I also make sure I thank them regularly for serving our country and making the sacrifice.
From supporting and advising on new business concepts and startups such as a custom, portable outdoor entertainment businesses, personal mani-pedi foot stool prototypes, supporting a business marketing company, gaming arcades and floating therapy concepts, an IT consultancy startup, to scaling small startups such as organic soap producers, a Cajun restaurant concept, or solar-powered building-top windmills – it’s always interesting, it’s never dull, and I thrive on the positive feedback I receive from each and everyone one during our sessions. I am making a difference. And, I can be myself, act naturally, without the interference or overarch of any type of phony office politics, business constraints, or distractions. And to top it all off - I was recently invited and personally interviewed as a representative business advisor to the program by Fox 13 News for an upcoming article about the program which is being published in time for Veteran’s Day later this week. It’s all good!
Alas, I have found my calling. I sincerely thank you Mr. Executive, and Dad, a.k.a. Lt. Colonel Dye. I know you are watching over me, and you are proud. 😊 At-ease, soldier.
David Dye is Co-Founder and Partner at ClearCadence (www.ClearCadence.com) and is a proud, long-standing and valued Business Advisor to the Operation Startup program. He regularly meets with and consults Military Veterans within the program plus participates in other ancillary and supporting events, programs, and functions they manage, schedule, and maintain.