By Steve Weiner WG’16, Navy Veteran and Co-Founder of VetTechTrek
I didn’t join the military with a plan to get out.
Like most 18 year olds, I hadn’t quite mapped out a plan for my life and I certainly didn’t predict that I would eventually earn my MBA from Wharton. Becoming a social entrepreneur and launching a foundation focused on helping veterans advance their careers after their service was unimaginable.
I began my career in the US Navy, where I had the honor of leading sailors and driving submarines all over the world. I was a nuclear engineer by trade, but I always got the most satisfaction out of mentoring sailors and helping them figure out how to be successful in their careers. For me, this was the single most important and rewarding part of my job. Little did I know, I would revisit career mentorship in a big way at Wharton.
When the time came to think about life after submarines, I wrestled with the decision a lot more than I thought I would. While I spent long periods of time underwater with little to no communication with the outside world, it was the greatest first job — nay, profession — I could have ever dreamed of. I knew I wanted to continue to have influence, but decided to leverage my experience and seek opportunities outside the military and attend business school. I have no regrets about leaving the submarine force and part of me deep down knew that I’d continue my service in some capacity.
Since leaving the Navy, I watched many fellow veterans take jobs — not professions — in roles they didn’t value for companies with recognizable brands that didn’t necessarily appreciate a veteran’s unique skillset. Repeatedly they confessed that they wished they had better information about transitioning to civilian life. I knew there had to be a better way.
We founded VetTechTrek to take the guesswork out of leaving the military.
The first six months of launching and scaling VetTechTrek has been a whirlwind. Together with my roommate from the US Naval Academy (and best friend for over decade), Mike Slagh, we’ve “deployed” over 100 veterans and spouses to more than 30 tech companies and startups in 3 different cities. We recently hosted our first virtual trek using a public videoconference platform called Blab where over 3,000 viewers “visited” 13 companies in 3 cities in 3 hours. Our next event is in partnership with Y Combinator —a startup accelerator that has funded over 1,000 companies like Airbnb and Dropbox —to power a veteran outreach event in the Bay Area for entrepreneurially-minded veterans.
We strategically decided to structure the organization as a nonprofit, because we wanted to focus on transforming the way people leave the military by empowering them with resources and opportunities to make informed decisions. Unlike traditional hiring firms that employ high-volume, one size fits all solutions to hiring, we spend a lot of time helping veterans shape their story and understanding their career and life motivations. We make introductions to mentors at tech companies that get them jazzed up about going to work and making an impact every day.
I’m truly inspired by the commitments that service members make to their country and honoring that commitment shouldn’t end when you hang up the uniform for the last time. In that vein, we are working with lawmakers in Washington to reform legislation affecting veteran education benefits, the military transition program, and opportunities and funding sources for veterans. In November 2015, I was honored to speak about veteran affairs on a panel in front of the newly formed Congressional Diversifying Tech Caucus and we are looking forward to further collaboration in 2016.
Wharton has been an unbelievable experience that has given me the time and tools to figure out how I want to serve beyond the military. I want to make special mention of Professors Laura Huang, Stephen Sammut, and Tyler Wry, who have been instrumental in helping me tap into my entrepreneurial spirit both in the classroom and by listening to my pitches and providing me needed feedback. Furthermore, I’m eternally grateful for the friendship and support of my Wharton 2016 classmates and the members of the Wharton Veterans Club. As we all look toward graduation in May and new beginnings, I couldn’t be more excited about my journey into the world of nonprofit management and social entrepreneurship.
Bio: Steve Weiner is an MBA Candidate in the Class of 2016 at the Wharton School. He served for 6 years in the US Navy’s submarine force and has worked at Goldman Sachs and Google. He is an Investment Partner with Dorm Room Fund, a Co-Founder of Wharton FinTech, and a Co-Founder of VetTechTrek.