Diversity & Inclusion
Entrepreneurs / Incubators / Universities

NYU entrepreneurship program puts military veterans back in basic training

The Veteran Entrepreneur Training (VET) Program at NYU's Polytechnic School of Engineering concluded this month with a “nerve-wracking” demo day.

From left to right: Elana Duffy, Eugene Oliva, Caroline Cessaro, and Matthew Milano, four participants at this summer's VET program. (Photo by Gregoire Molle)

Eugene Oliva knew that he and his teammates had 10 minutes, on that morning of Aug. 13, to convince a jury that what they had been working on for the past 10 weeks was viable.
Oliva was one of 14 military veterans divided into five teams pitching the startups they developed at the Veteran Entrepreneur Training (VET) Program, designed by the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. The VET program got support from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol.
The veterans who participated in the VET program “all have companies today,” said Steven Kuyan, the engineering school’s managing director for incubators and entrepreneurship. Still, participants in the NYU program need to work more on these companies before they can launch them.
At this month’s demo day, veterans pitched their companies before a panel of judges.
“It was nerve-wracking,” said Elana Duffy, a former Sergeant First Class in Afghanistan, who used her time at the VET program to develop Path Finder, an online platform where users rate and give feedback on veterans’ services and facilities. During her pitch, Duffy felt she was telling the judges: “This is my baby, please like it. Tell me he’s cute.”

Oliva was in the Marines for eight years, but the service didn’t quite prepare him for the pitching battlefield. “We went first, because I just wanted to go ahead and bite the bullet,” Oliva said, adding that he adopted the “Marine state of mind.”
“I was freaking out,” said Oliva, who developed a medical billing company called DaVinciBA with two teammates, Tiffany Lopez and Matthew Milano.
Milano said that before working on DaVinciBa, he had tried to launch a company in Nashville, but it had “failed, miserably.” He was looking for jobs on the New York Division of Military and Naval Affairs’ (DMNA) website, where he found out about the NYU’s incubator program for veterans.
He said one thing he learned during the VET program was how to work at getting customers: “Get out of the building, find someone who’s going to pay for your product,” Milano said.
“Up until demo day, you never know if somebody is going to pursue their idea,” managing director Kuyan said. “At demo day, we firmly believed that these participants were going to keep growing their projects.”
Multiple program participants told Technical.ly Brooklyn they’re in the early stages of raising funding. Duffy expects to soft-launch a version of Path Finder by the end of September. She says the site has already enlisted 150 beta testers.
As for the NYU incubator team, “we’re taking some time to learn from what we’ve done,” Kuyan said. He expects a new VET program to start by the beginning of 2016.

Companies: NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Series: Brooklyn

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