VEI’s first cohort industry, location and partner no accident

LAKE NONA — Ricardo Garcia says it’s no accident that the Veteran Entrepreneurship Initiative’s first cohort for its just announced tech business accelerator program will focus on health tech.

After all, the veteran-centric program has its home in Lake Nona’s Medical City area, a region that has quickly become known for its research, business and programming based in health-related technologies.

“All the potential mentors, resources that we can really leverage to empower our innovation is right here,” he said. “We aligned with some of their focus areas, too. AI in healthcare, neurotech, digital health. There are additional resources here startups can leverage.”

The VEI used its annual business summit Thursday to announce the SPEAR Accelerator, a new effort to support veteran-led tech companies and entrepreneurs with resources, mentorship and a guided curriculum for growth. VEI has helped more than 600 veteran businesses since its inception in 2013.

Applications for the first group of businesses will open in July but the VEI’s board wanted to use the momentum of the summit to launch.

The accelerator will launch in partnership with Johns Hopkins’ Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, thanks to an introduction made by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

An official there recommended connecting with Adler Archer, the Center’s managing director.

“He’s just as passionate as we are,” Garcia said of the U.S. Air Force veteran. “So, it just kind of clicked and all came together.”

Archer said Johns Hopkins workforce has thousands of veterans and active-duty military on staff. That resulted in an almost natural partnership, he said.

“There is already an affinity and appreciation for veteran service,” Adler said in an interview. “Then, just seeing the opportunities in health tech and being aware that the military and veteran populations are unique. Who better to support something like this than Johns Hopkins?”

Across the U.S., military veterans own more than 1.7 million businesses.

When they launch, they bring with them a natural ability to create and to serve the community, two traits fortified in the military, Archer said.

“It’s a continuation of that service with our own ventures,” he said. “So, having other people who know where you’re coming from and they can help you get where you’re going, I think that’s hugely important. The VEI is a great resource for that.”

The agency’s SPEAR Accelerator will focus on early stage, veteran-led tech companies.

Each cohort will focus upon a specific industry, with healthcare being the first.

The program’s curriculum will start in February and run through May, when the graduates will be features during VEI’s annual summit.

“It has been an incredible journey to get to this point,” Garcia said. “It was always our vision to do something bigger, something that had a greater impact in the community.”

The path of an entrepreneur can often be filled with adversity. However, Garcia, a U.S. Air Force veteran, said, veterans learn in training how to deal with those obstacles and overcome challenges.

“Resilience and adaptability,” he said. “Being able to adapt quickly, embrace failure and adjust. That’s what distinguishes veterans.”