Throughout the week, we’re posting stories from veterans who’ve made strides in the technology industry. You can also find them all here and follow the conversation about how to support more veterans in this growing industry at #VetsWhoTech.
When Nick Mastronardi transitioned out of the Air Force in 2014, he knew he wanted to start a company. Even though he was able to serve in senior positions in the Pentagon and White House, there was one assignment that forged his desire to build a business. “I was an Economics professor at the Air Force Academy, and from teaching knew small businesses and startups were the engine to and an indispensable component of our economy.”
“I wanted to make sure military members were implementing representative and crowd-sourced public policies.” Out of this idea came POLCO, a political participation platform that allows citizens to find, learn about, and participate in their public policies. “I wanted to create a platform where the best minds in our country could wrestle the day’s most important policy debates in front of citizens to win their favor.”
Having already earned a PhD in Economics while serving, Nick knew he really needed private sector experience to make his dream a reality. Additionally, with two young children, Nick knew he couldn’t be as cavalier as someone with greater financial flexibility. After some exposure to the community through TechStars Patriot Boot Camp, an intensive three-day program that provides veterans with entrepreneurial education and mentorship, and a year at Amazon, Nick was accepted to the Seed Sumo tech accelerator in Bryan, TX. He decided he was ready to take the leap and left Amazon to move to Texas and start POLCO in the spring of 2015. Since then, POLCO’s website has launched and the company is making progress.
Nick would like to be able to put some of his GI benefits towards POLCO, but the rules around GI benefits don’t allow for this. “I have over $100,000 of GI benefits going unused right now. Money that I earned and want to use in an impactful way,” he says. “The current GI Bill blanket policy is not adequately flexible to support veterans seeking entrepreneurship instead of school, even though they are arguably of comparable value.”
In a time of less financial certainty for his young company, Nick would use his benefits towards a VA home loan, which would provide more stability for his family. Even though Nick has good savings, great credit, and a history of private-sector earning potential, it’s very tough to get a VA or any type of home loan until he has a two-year track record of self employment. “One thing I was really looking forward to for my family following my active duty time was growing some roots in a community.”
Military experience uniquely prepares veterans for entrepreneurship and roles in the tech economy — but financial constraints for transitioning service members disincentivize veteran participation in the startup economy. Because of this unique preparation, Nick is committed to hiring veterans at POLCO. In fact, his entire team is composed of veterans.
As Nick puts it, “I think one of the most valuable lessons from the military is learning how to deal with adversity, face challenges, and ultimately expand your frustration tolerances. As a startup founder or employee, you are directly responsible for the fate of your company, which is exhilarating with growth and frustrating with plateaus. During these periods you rely on your ability to deal with those ups and downs. Military adversaries don’t slow down for you out of sympathy and neither does the market so you always have to keep charging.”