Across the United States, 250,000 service members transition out of the military every year. The number of service members leaving through San Diego is about 40,000 per year. A few years ago, Mike Betancourt was one of them. This is the story of how he navigated the maze of veterans’ services resources and made a successful transition to civilian life.
The Transition Begins
After eight years in the Marine Corps, Mr. Betancourt asked himself how he would shift from the work he had been doing in the military in systems and communications to the work he envisioned doing in civilian life. He comes from a family of entrepreneurs, and he wants to help veterans not only become entrepreneurs and grow their businesses but to develop as well-rounded leaders in the community.
Like the thousands of other veterans in transition, Mr. Betancourt faced a plethora of public and nonprofit veterans’ services organizations, but no clear path to finding those that could be most helpful for his needs. A recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy points out that the U.S. has between 43,000 and 46,000 registered veterans nonprofits. The article highlights a new membership organization, National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations, that aims to coordinate information-sharing among its member nonprofits. In San Diego, a recently-launched organization, Zero8hundred, supports transitioning service members and their families by linking them to resources and opportunities in the community.
The Mission Continues Becomes Part of the Story
Mr. Betancourt went back to school on the GI bill at Cal State San Marcos (CSUSM) to complete his undergraduate degree in business. Through CSUSM’s Veterans’ Services Program, he learned about The Mission Continues, an organization that provides fellowships for transitioning veterans to use and develops their skills and strengths in local nonprofits. When Mr. Betancourt told leaders there that he wanted to learn how to help businesses and organizations grow, they connected him as a Mission Continues Fellow with San Diego Social Venture Partners, an accelerator for nonprofits. The people he met and networks he developed in this stage of his transition made it possible for him to get the job he is in now.
“The Mission Continues successfully creates this camaraderie among veterans,” Mr. Betancourt said. “I feel proud to have been a Mission Continues Fellow. My sense of self-efficacy increased ten-fold, and I came to believe that I can do this work that I want to do.”
Vet-Tech is the Next Chapter
Today, Mr. Betancourt is the Regional Director of Vet Tech in San Diego. Vet-Tech is a Silicon Valley-based entrepreneurship training center and business incubator for military veterans in technology. This job is a pretty good fit for the transition that Mr. Betancourt set out to make from the military to helping entrepreneurs grow their skills and their businesses. Mr. Betancourt is inspired by the veteran entrepreneurs he has met at Vet-Tech.
“Vets have a heart of service in their entrepreneurship,” he said. “They want to make the world better. One vet told me he started his company because one of his friends got killed in a training exercise, and that’s unacceptable. So he is making devices to prevent those kinds of accidents.”
Mr. Betancourt says there is another reason why he expects veteran entrepreneurs to be successful in their business startups. Research shows that characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, such as a high need for achievement, comfort with autonomy and uncertainty and dynamic decision-making processes, are well-developed through military service.