At Patriot Bootcamp, A Commitment To Social Causes And Going Beyond "Finding Tofu Cupcakes"

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What separated Patriot Bootcamp from all of the other Washington DC tech events that I have attended was that it sought to enlist a new source of talent — veteran leaders — into the startup community.

By Katya Vasilaky (VP of Research & Strategy, TroopSwap)

Technology’s greatest global contributions could be humanitarian, and this is something that can too often be forgotten in the first world. Foundations spawned from the success of technology-focused companies, such as the Gates Foundation, Google.org, Microsoft Research, and Nike Foundation, all sponsor studies and programs to improve health care, sanitation, emergency relief and education both in the US and abroad.

I’ve worked and led such programs and research studies in Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda, where I write this article as I evaluate one of the Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect‘s programs. There are technology startups, such as Ushahidi, Digital Green, AccessMobile, GMaarifa, Spouts of Water, directly solving the problems uncovered by the above foundations.

I had the pleasure of meeting the latter three teams in Uganda this past month (GMaarifa and Spouts of Water having female founders), and work with Digital Green with USAID’s Hacking for Hunger event for startups solving global food security problems.

If the Patriot Bootcamp was any indication, these startups may have some company soon.

On July 19, 2012, several of my TroopSwap colleagues and I had the pleasure of serving as mentors in David Cohen’s and David Tisch’s TechStars Patriot Bootcamp. This three-day intensive program was, per Cohen, designed to be a “catalyst for veterans and service members to kickstart a company, find co-founders and advance as entrepreneurs.”

David Tisch, an early investor in TroopSwap, invited our founders, Blake Hall and Matt Thompson, to participate. What separated this bootcamp from all of the other Washington DC tech events that I have attended was that it sought to enlist a new source of talent — veteran leaders — into the startup community. Despite the focus on military-related personnel, the event did not stress military-related technologies; in fact, the ideas ranged from new malaria treatments to the aggregation of services for the disabled.

Teaching at the Naval Academy and now working with veterans at TroopSwap, I’ve witnessed service members’ and veterans’ commitment to social causes. And this is true across genders. We may often think of women as having the greater propensity to help or “do-good,” but the Patriot Bootcamp represented an equal distribution of this characteristic across gender, even if female attendance, either as mentor or mentee, wasn’t at parity.

As a mentor, I had the opportunity to speak with over a dozen attendees about their military service, their startup ideas, and their business plans.

The passion of these participants became more evident with every conversation starting with a Veteran nurse. While the blind comprise a signification portion of the US population, no centralized source exists that can provide guidance for discovering and locating needed services. Through her past training and work, this nurse personally understood the market failure and was in the perfect position to execute, having connections with in-home training aids, providers of seeing-eye dogs, and various other local services. Another attendee and I discussed ways to measure the success and outcomes of US military spending and aid in foreign countries via mobile reporting.

These are just two of the conversations that inspired me throughout the day as I witnessed a group of service women and men come together to go beyond building the next app to search for luxury goods, what I jokingly categorize as “finding tofu cupcakes.” As C.K. Prahalad made clear, there are enormous and lucrative opportunities solving issues at the Bottom of the Pyramid.

To become involved in TechStar’s next Patriot Bootcamp, stay tuned here.

Women 2.0 readers: What bottom of the pyramid problems do you want to solve? Let us know in the comments!

About the guest blogger: Katya Vasilaky is the VP of Research and Strategy at TroopSwap, a VC-funded startup in Washington DC providing online military identification as well as deals/discounts to the military community. She holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Maryland and a BA in Math/Economics from Columbia University. For her dissertation, she developed an effective and low-cost social network-based training program for females in rural Uganda. Follow her on Twitter at @knvdc.