Entrepreneurs

How a combat veteran turned VC is helping other vets become successful entrepreneurs

A Master Sergeant of the United States Army, fills out an application with Toyota in New York City.
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A Master Sergeant of the United States Army, fills out an application with Toyota in New York City.

Stuart Sutley joined the United States Marine Corps at age 22 in 1987. A few years later, he would serve as an infantry officer in Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait.

Today, he's a partner and co-founder of TCP Venture Capital, a technology-focused venture capital fund that has a special fund exclusively for veteran-owned businesses.

The former combat veteran has made it one of his life's goals to give back to other veterans — a group he thinks is especially qualified for entrepreneurship, and often overlooked in the business world.

"Our thesis is that veteran entrepreneurs who are proven leaders in the military will, with the right support, translate into business owners who will do whatever it takes from a work ethic standpoint to ensure their companies don't fail," Sutley said.

Stuart Sutley, who served in the United States Marine Corps, now helps other veterans start their own businesses.

TCP Venture Capital started in 2012 and has investment approximately $12 million in 14 companies. The fund's special program for former military personnel is called the Veterans' Opportunity Fund.

"We don't deploy big sums of money," he said. "We deploy enough to get them to the next really big capital-raising round."

So far, TCP Venture Capital's investments in veteran-run businesses have been profitable. Sutley said for every dollar invested, it gets an average of $2.50 back.

But it's not always easy. Veterans face enormous hurdles reintegrating into the business world.

For one, they aren't able to build a business network while they're serving, which puts them at a major disadvantage compared to their nonmilitary peers.

Having to relocate also poses obstacles, Sutley said. "Because you're moving all the time, you haven't built any collateral like a house that you could leverage for any kind of financing."

Then there is the perception problem.

"When you come from West Point, you are not typically seen by venture capitalists as someone who has DNA for innovation," he said. They may see loyalty and character, but not understand how military service connects to business success.

He especially wants to dispel the notion that all military personnel only engage in physical activity.

"It's a complete high-tech world that they live in," Sutley said. "I don't think people understand that we're helping the engineers or system analysts find really great jobs in companies we're investing in."

Bronze Star recipient and former naval officer Bow Rodgers also invests in other veterans as co-founder and CEO of Vet-Tech, a start-up accelerator that develops and funds veteran-led businesses.

His advice on going from veteran to entrepreneur? Take action now.

"Get going immediately," said Rodgers, who served in combat during the Vietnam War. "Get onto LinkedIn; get going to meetups. Don't sit at home worrying, thinking 'I don't have the skills.'"

"The absolute truth is that they execute," he said. "It's been drilled into you that you've got an objective, and you have to do it."