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The University of
Virginia Darden School of Business has long attracted a significant
contingent of military veterans to its programs, as leadership and
problem-solving skills learned in the armed services often translate well to
the Darden experience.
Now, in a pilot effort to take part of the Darden experience
beyond traditional MBA formats and recipients, Darden faculty and students have
partnered with a veteran-focused business accelerator program to help bring entrepreneurship
training to a cohort of veterans in the Washington, D.C., area.
Since August, Darden
Professor Greg Fairchild and a rotating group of Darden alumni and Second Year
students have led entrepreneurship courses at Bunker Labs DC as part of a program directed by Darden Executive
The pilot program graduated a cohort of seven veteran-led
companies in December, with plans for a new group in February.
Emily McMahan (EMBA ‘10) is the director of Capitol Post, an organization that aims
to bring the veteran business community together in Washington, D.C., through a
focus on business, career, and community and serves as the home of Bunker Labs DC. McMahan said the interest and early results
indicated a program poised for success.
class was the pilot and we told everyone that — these are our early adopters,”
McMahan said. “We have a product and an offering, and we told them we would be
tweaking it. For our next class in February, we are really excited for the
programming and line-up of companies we’ve attracted.”
the “ideal” Bunker Labs startup is led by a veteran or veteran spouse with a
concept that is innovative and addresses a clear market need. With added
instruction and support, the accelerator aims to build sustainable and scalable
positioned toward the veteran community and active-duty military, McMahan said
the next class will include a few civilian-led startups, as well.
The first cohort
featured a number of promising businesses, including a company aimed at helping
military families identify exactly where to live and a training program for
schools to help them handle threatening situations.
through cases with Darden instructors, the students apply the lessons gleaned
from case work to their own businesses immediately.
to be able to bring Darden to a program where the rubber meets the road,” said
McMahan. “They’re really applying what they learn from these cases in the now.”
In addition to
the instruction the students gain from the Darden-affiliated teachers, the
Darden School as a whole benefits by inviting a new constituency into the
interested always in ways we broaden the Darden circle,” Fairchild said. “This
is what we’re about in terms of bringing high-quality education to people who
are really at a life inflection point.”
whose father was a career army artillery officer, said he knew that the job
market could be difficult for veterans, and was further struck by the
incarcerated veterans he had met through the entrepreneurship courses he and
Darden students teach
in area prisons.
“I knew that, basically, things were challenging for veterans,
more than most people recognize,” Fairchild said. “On the other hand, I knew
that it was a population that includes people who move people and machinery and
have led, and so you can see the ways that people who are veterans make a lot
of sense as business people, and more specifically as entrepreneurs.”
Fairchild echoed McMahan’s assessment of the immediate
impact of the case studies for a population that is actively engaged in the
creation, or running of, a business.
“These people are really dealing with real things,”
Fairchild said, “We’ve worked closely with Emily on figuring out how to get the
right mix of theory and case and workshop, but I think we have a great partner
who’s open to learning how to do that best.”
Coincidentally, for an initiative that will ultimately widen
the Darden network, the Capitol Post idea was born out of the alumni network,
beginning with a conversation between McMahan and her EMBA classmate Stephanie
Landrum (EMBA ’10).
Landrum, the president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership,
said she approached McMahan about launching Capitol Post as McMahan was
considering transitioning out of a leadership role in an area company.
“When I met Emily, she had already made her transition from
military service to entrepreneurship — and as CFO, I saw how she used the
Darden curriculum to help grow the company,” Landrum said. “With her background
as a veteran, an entrepreneur and a Darden grad, I knew she was the perfect
person to help design, build and launch the program.”
Landrum said Capitol Post scouted a number
of programs for support running the entrepreneurship courses, and was pleased
to ultimately land on the school and curriculum with which she and McMahan were
“We were very excited to find a way to include Darden and
work with the faculty and students to customize some of the best parts of our
Darden experience to now share with the veteran business owners we are working
with,” Landrum said. “The power of any network is based on some combination of
quality and size, and we are proud to be contributing to both with Capitol Post
and Bunker Labs DC.”
Bryan Yoon (Class of 2016), who spent eight years in the
U.S. Army as an intelligence officer before coming to Darden, said the
experience teaching in the program allowed him to both try his hand as an
instructor and give back to a network to which he remains close.
“All of us in
Military Association continue to feel a connection to the military and
people who used to be in the military,” Yoon said. “There’s a particular set of experiences and
a vernacular that accompany those experiences that only the people in that room
are going to be able to understand, and there’s a unique opportunity to connect
that to businesses.”
The Second Year
student noted the characteristics of his students and military peers that made
them particularly adept as entrepreneurs, including comfort with ambiguity and
“a willingness to run through walls” to get results.
Yoon, who also
teaches in the prison entrepreneurship program, noted the additional work that
goes into trying to become fluent on the cases he led. Anticipating and
addressing alternate interpretations of case work represented a particular challenge
and gave him renewed appreciation for the efforts of teachers at Darden and in
the broader educational ecosystem.
“I’m not necessarily
an expert on entrepreneurship, but, on a day-to-day basis, I make myself into
an expert on that particular case,” Yoon said, noting that he knew his audience
came in each day prepared for the case and with the expectation that they would
learn from the class discussion.
Yoon said he,
too, always learned from the discussions he led.
and leading case discussions is itself a unique and valuable leadership
exercise,” said Yoon. “You start with a particular set of learning objectives
and then have to shape the conversation in such a manner that allows for
students to interact openly but also keep them on track.”
program remains in its infancy, Fairchild said he could foresee a sustainable
and repeatable course emanating from the pilot. Moreover, basing the initial
program in the Washington, D.C., area, which has a particularly large veteran
population, means there will likely remain a rich talent pool from which
Capitol Post can draw.
meanwhile, said Capitol Post is thinking big in terms of the impact its clients
can have on the wider business world.
“We believe we
are changing the American economy,” she said.
University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education
prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D.
and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for
teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research.
Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public
university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Darden Executive Education is a top-ranked, global provider of executive development. Delivered by the University of Virginia Darden School Foundation and taught by the Darden School of Business’ highly acclaimed faculty, Darden Executive Education prepares and inspires leaders to succeed in a global marketplace. Offering more than 30 short courses and partnering with leading organizations worldwide to develop custom business solutions, we provide personalized, transformational learning experiences at our location in Charlottesville, Virginia, in Washington, D.C., and online. Darden shapes the way the world does business through our research — energized by 10 research Centers of Excellence — and draws upon our collective knowledge and experience to cultivate responsible, innovative leaders.
Sophie ZunzDirector of Media RelationsDarden School of BusinessUniversity of VirginiaZunzS@darden.virginia.edu+1-434-924-7502
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