5 Reasons to Apply for the Stanford Ignite — Post-9/11 Veterans Program

The Stanford Ignite — Post-9/11 Veterans program is now accepting applications for the 2017 class. Here are 5 reasons why you should apply.

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the Stanford Ignite — Post-9/11 Veterans program. I was so impressed and so motivated that I want to make sure that as many fellow veterans as possible are aware of the upcoming deadlines and decide to apply.

This was the best entrepreneurship program I have ever attended. There are a few times in life where you look around the room at who is sitting next to you and you very humbly wonder how the hell you were selected for such a thing. This was one such experience for me. I highly recommend that any veteran or transitioning military service member who is interested in starting or running their own business should apply.

There will be an information webinar on Feb 2nd, 2017 @ 5PM PST. The deadline for program applications is March 2nd, 2017. The program dates are from 25 June — 20 July 2017. See the bottom of this article for info and links.

Here are 5 reasons why YOU should apply for this program:

1. Meet amazing people

There are a few times in life when you look around the room at the people next to you and just feel quietly humbled. For me, this was one of those times. Our class consisted of a little bit of everyone: from submarine officers to pilots to grunts to intel folks and the full spectrum of SOF. The level of experience and professionalism represented as incredible. However, Stanford Ignite also did a very good job to ensure that the selection was not only SEALs and fighter pilots with 20+ years of service and MBAs. There was a broad range of people and background represented. Some had only served 4 years and had a limited amount of business experience, like myself.

Not only was the selection of people impressive, but the people themselves were some of the most fun, outgoing, intelligent folks I have ever met. I can’t think of the last time I attended a course where I laughed so much and felt such a strong connection to other participants. Every free moment was spent studying together, grabbing beers and sharing our experiences. The conversation naturally flowed from business design to transition to military stories to family and back again without skipping a beat.

On weekends, there were plenty of shenanigans and partying, mixed in with project deadlines and group sessions. The course demanded intense studying, lots of hard work and a few sleepless nights, but we also found time for fun. Several weekend trips included concerts, barbecues, baseball games, dinners at faculty homes and trips around the city together.

Simply put, my favorite part of the program was the people. I still stay in touch with the entire class and we send regular updates about life, transition, business growth and family. I would say that the 2016 Stanford Ignite class and faculty have become an extended family and anyone who knows what I’m talking about knows how valuable that is.

2. Learn from the best

It should come as no surprise that Stanford pulled out all the stops to bring in the best speakers, faculty and guests available. Guest speakers included Condoleezza Rice and General Mattis, amongst many others. Despite their busy schedules, these people not only made time for us, but specifically requested the opportunity to talk with our class. Their lessons on leadership, strategy, commitment and life were absolutely invaluable.

In addition, business leaders such as Tom Davin, CEO of 5.11 Tactical and John Rudella of Silver Lake Partners talked about their journeys and experiences. As veterans, both men spoke about their transition from fast-paced military life into even faster-paced civilian life. They discussed the challenges they faced, their approach to overcoming obstacles and the importance of the veteran network. It was inspirational to hear how such men faced the same challenges as every other veteran upon leaving service: finding purpose, securing employment, taking advantage of education and leveraging every single opportunity to prove themselves. These talks were really important and inspirational for everyone in the class.

The absolute best of the Stanford faculty also delivered incredible lessons on the full spectrum of entrepreneurship, including: marketing, sales, finance, accounting, negotiations, strategy, growth management, communications, product design, prototyping, organizational design and more. The ability of the staff to deliver such important lessons in such a relatively short time and in a manner in which we could all understand it was absolutely brilliant. While some of the class had background in some of these topics, some had no prior knowledge whatsoever… which meant that teaching MBA-level courses had to be done in a way that was impactful, yet understandable. They delivered brilliantly. Even difficult subjects such as accounting and finance were broken down into lessons and assignments that allowed the whole class to understand. I have never in my life met such a talented, committed and inspirational group of educators.

3. Experience the environment

There is no other place in the world to learn about business quite like at Stanford. Situated in the heart of Silicon Valley and ranked as the #1 MBA in the world for entrepreneurship, it’s pretty hard to beat. But there’s much more than sunshine and good location that falls into this category.

The Stanford campus is beautiful, clean and a brilliant place for learning. As soon as you set foot on the main quad, you almost feel like you’re in a movie. It’s an iconic place with rich history and instills a sense of confidence and purpose. One thing in particular that struck me was the cleanliness of the whole campus. There was hardly a scrap of paper on the ground and it was common to see the campus staff working all hours of the day to make the place clean, bright and vibrant. The Arbuckle Dining Pavilion where lunch is provided each day was fantastic and included a variety of food types, daily specials, and options. The classrooms, study areas, hotel-like dorm rooms and group spaces all added to the quality and experience of the campus.

Perhaps one of the most unique features of the Silicon Valley area included all of the local tech companies that we got to visit, including: Google, Facebook and Tesla. It’s one thing to sit in class all day and learn about building a great business but it’s another thing entirely to visit these legendary places, understand their models for growth, explore behind the scenes and ask burning questions about their startup, recruitment, hiring, organizational culture, and more. To add to this experience, we had the great pleasure of being led on the tours and holding discussions with fellow veterans who had transitioned and had great advice about networking, applying and transitioning.

Of course, there we also a few favorite pubs and hangouts off campus where we would meet up to review lessons, complete homework and grab a pint or several while sharing laughs, lessons and insights about the course. All of these elements about the environment and culture came together to make a truly one-of-a-kind experience that was simply unforgettable.

4. Conceptualize your ideas

This is, of course, what Stanford Ignite is all about. Passionate leaders and thinkers with brilliant business ideas come together to turn their ideas into reality.

At the beginning of the course, a small handful of venture ideas will have been selected through a series of peer-reviewed selection rounds. First, there is an online submission and voting process. Next, there is a video submission and another vote. Finally, there will be a short pitch in front of the entire class on day one, followed by the final voting. The faculty does their best to put people on one of the top projects of their choice, along with at least one other person they feel connected to. Groups of approximately 5 people are put together with an idea generator whose submission was selected. This sets the tone for the remainder of the course.

Once the venture ideas are selected and groups announced, it’s down to work. The course begins some classes on conceptualizing and formulating ideas. Then, there are some hilariously fun experiments and creations in the world famous design thinking lab. In order to create a product, you need to understand your target customers, so while I won’t spoil the experiment I will say this: be prepared to think big, ask important questions, laugh until your sides hurt and repeat.

The classes flow naturally together with deign thinking, entrepreneurship, marketing and sales strategy leading the way and then flowing into finance, accounting, budgeting, pitching, competitive strategy, value creation and managing growth. Along the way you will learn from the top professionals in the world and will have plenty of opportunity to ask questions, take notes, formulate ideas and refine your project idea.

Throughout the course there will be tons of reading, homework assignments, late nights with your group and lots of fun events. A big focus of this program is not just to educate, but to build lifelong relationships between yourself and other veterans. There are many social nights out and like myself, you’ll probably struggle a bit to balance the beers and laughs with the incredibly busy schedule. You will also be partnered with incredible mentors and business leader who will help you define your value, conceptualize your approach and develop a winning pitch. So, be sure to take time with them, build relationships and gather as much as possible from their knowledge and experience.

At the end of the course, every group will pitch to a committee of real investors. While they are thankful for your military service, that doesn’t mean they’re going to go easy on you. Your pitches will need to be perfect. Use your military skills of leadership, ingenuity and tenacity to create a killer presentation that will leave them speechless. Show them that although this is a class of veterans, we bring every bit as much value to the table as any other MBA, founder or serial entrepreneur. Show them the side of our nation’s veterans that everyone deserves to see.

This course will push you, challenge you and even frustrate you at times, but always give it 110% effort because every single person who is putting this together is giving the same effort to you, I promise. At the end, some people will have clearly defined products that are ready for the market. Some others may scrap their ideas completely and decide to create something else (if you’re going to fail, do it here and not in the real world. Learn and drive on). The bottom line, however, is that everyone will walk away from this course a better person, much more educated, with a stronger network and a tight-knit group of new friends. What’s that worth to you?

5. You don’t think you’ll be accepted

Perhaps the best reason to apply to this program is to prove something to yourself. That’s right, I saved the best for last. You’ve read this far and Stanford Ignite seems interesting… but you’re not sure you can stack up against the competition and get accepted. Well, there’s only one way to find out. Maybe you get accepted, maybe you don’t, but either way it will make you dive deeper into what you want to do with your skills, how you can contribute to an environment like this and what you hope to get out of the future. Dream big, aim high and never stop. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

I didn’t think I would get accepted, to be honest. I applied anyway. I wrote the most convincing and heart-felt essays I possibly could and I asked people who know me well to provide references of my character and abilities. Somehow, I made it. Looking back, this was the most impressive combination of people I have ever been around and I am so thankful that I didn’t let fear of failure keep me from applying.

Of the veterans who attended in our class alone, at least 5 have already started a business within a year. That’s almost 13%, which is an unheard of success rate. Out of 1600 total Stanford Ignite participants around the globe, more than 120 companies have been started by Ignite alumni.

In life, you will never know what you’re capable of unless you try. Never be afraid to fail; only be afraid not to try. Let the decision boards, hiring managers or whoever else determine if you are the right person. Too many veterans leave the service and fail to recognize the amount of change that has taken place in their lives and how invaluable their leadership, commitment and teamwork skills are to the outside world. As a result, many connections, opportunities and experiences pass by and leave you wondering “what if?”. Don’t be that person. Don’t have any “what if” moments. Apply to things that you believe are outside your reach and once you find yourself in places that you never thought you would be in and with influence you never thought you would have, reach out and help other veterans as they transition also. One team, one fight, always.

If you’re reading this and inspired or influenced in any way, remember that the only reason I’m writing it is because I applied for something I didn’t think I would get selected for. So, the rest is up to you. What will you do?

Important Action Items:

Info session: There will be a webinar info session on Thursday, Feb 2, 2017 @ 1700 PST. View this link for details. 
 Application Deadline: March 2nd, 2017. View the main website for info and create an account here to apply. 
 Program Dates: 25 Jun — 20 Jul 2017. Class sessions are on Monday through Friday over four consecutive weeks.
 Cost: $2,000 USD. This is a steal. The normal course for non-Stanford students is $14,500 and still extremely competitive. (Stanford Ignite — Post-9/11 Veterans is subsidized by the generous donations of dedicated Stanford GSB alumni.)
 Digital brochure: Click this link.

Website: View the program website here.