For three years, I lived intermittently on a U.S. Navy submarine that dove beneath the surface of the Pacific for two or three months at a time. Underwater camaraderie, as you might imagine, is strong. I had a chance to hear about my fellow crew members’ backgrounds and what they imagined themselves doing after service. But the more I heard, the clearer it became to me that the military’s mission-oriented nature fails to encourage forward-thinking about interests, talents, or career paths. I watched colleagues transition into the civilian world unsure about the future, making career decisions with no counsel from anyone outside the military.
I had always known I wouldn’t be a military “lifer,” and Wharton, I thought, would give me a chance to explore new opportunities, meet people with different (read: non-military) backgrounds, and reflect on the type of work I wanted to do.
One of the first projects I undertook when I got to Philadelphia was Wharton FinTech, which I launched with a few classmates. I encouraged my best friend, Mike, who had recently finished his Navy deployment, to tag along on a FinTech club “industry trek” to San Francisco. After two whirlwind days visiting a dozen companies, Mike was starry-eyed. He told me we had to organize the same trips for veterans.
Just like that, we launched VetTechTrek. We connect veterans and their spouses with the tech industry, startups, accelerators and venture capital firms by bringing them to companies with opportunities. We’ve made five treks with 150 veterans and their spouses to more than 50 companies in three cities. To me, whether or not these veterans work in technology is less important than them knowing they can.
We continue to look for ways to scale these events. (A recent “virtual trek” to 13 companies in three hours currently has more than 10,000 viewers on YouTube.) My hope is that as we continue to grow, more veterans will have the chance to find the mentorship and information they need to forge their best path. —Steve Weiner, second-year MBA student
Published as “Submarine to FinTech” in the Spring/Summer 2016 issue of Wharton Magazine.