Friday, September 30, 2011

An HBS student in Afghanistan

Daniel is an HBS student currently deployed in Afghanistan. Prior to HBS, he worked in finance but enlisted in the Marines Reserves as an infantryman. During his first year at HBS, he received his first deployment order, and Daniel is currently serving a 12 month activation cycle. He has had a tremendous amount of support from the school, including personally from the Dean, and will return to complete his MBA after his one year activation. HBS has historically been extremely supporting of its military students, and the administration worked with Daniel's situation to make sure he received full credit for the first year of his MBA. Everyone is looking forward to his return.

Recently I got an update from him, and he agreed to share some of his story online at my request. They are thoughts that certainly many soldiers and Marines have had at one point or another. The following is an excerpt from his writings in Afghanistan:

"Afghanistan, Helmand Province in particular, is the most different place I've ever been in my life. To begin with, everything is the coyote-tan color of dirt. Not surprising, given that the dirt here is a moon-dust-like powdery consistency that begins to puff up and out before my boots even touch the ground. Everywhere I look, all I see is the tan of the dirt and everything it covers: the ground, mud compounds, roads, rocks, our cammies, hesco barriers, trucks, even the air. The landscape is absolutely barren - just sand and rocks as far as the horizon in every direction. The fact that people live here at the precipice of non-existence is a testament to their tenacity. The dry air and hot sand conspire to literally suck the life out of anything exposed to the elements (and, let's face it, everything out here is exposed to the elements). Even the mud-walled compounds that they build straight out of the dirt around them look like a day of solid rain would extinguish all signs that anybody ever existed here. And that makes it all the more amusing to me that at least three world powers have fought over ownership of this land in the last 100 years. The only explanation I can think of is that those wars were initiated while standing in front of a map of the world, drawing lines from here to there. It's impossible to imagine someone with both feet on the ground staring at the dusty expanse of nothingness and deciding to throw thousands of young lives at "owning" what they saw. Owning the desert seems like an almost purely theoretical concept tantamount to owning a cubic foot of air - boundaries are invisible, there's basically nothing in it, and you can't do much with it. But from what we got as far as Afghan history classes goes, lines were drawn in the sky and the locals must have felt like aliens arrived in flying saucers.

The most surprising thing here has been the children. In an environment so devoid of stimuli, the kids are some of the most engaging, dynamic bunch I've ever seen. They run up to you on patrols and speak English! Unfortunately, it's clear that their English was learned from Marines (Helmand province being our main area of operations), which ranks slightly higher than learning English in jail, I suppose. But they absolutely exude a level of intelligence that is shocking to most of our prejudiced expectations. One little kid came up to us and said, in English, "Today you have six trucks! More trucks today. You are new!". Definitely not one that you want to turn down when asked for "biscuit" and "juice" in case the Taliban also has biscuits and juice to spare. Oddly, you only see kids and old people, nothing in between. Something definitely happens between childhood and old age, though, because the older people are the most reserved, quiet people I have seen. Despite their quietness, I don't imagine any of that intelligence and sharpness of mind goes away.

In general, the dissonance between life back home and life over here continues to demonstrate the absurdity of the universe, which (ironically) helps keep things light and my spirits up. Despite feeling a bit far from home, I'm pumped to finally be in Afghanistan doing what I joined the Marines to do."

Job well done Daniel. We are proud of you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Announcing the New Business Plan Mentorship Program

Many military personnel are well suited to become entrepreneurs, but often don't know where to begin or are working in isolation. MilitaryToBusiness would like to support aspiring military entrepreneurs, and has formed the MtB Business Plan Mentorship Program to do so.

Every individual or team that submits their business plan executive summary will receive expert start-up advice to assess the feasibility of the plan, recommendations for next steps, and if appropriate, introductions to the venture capital community.

The best business plans will also receive formal recognition, which might help in your fundraising or at the very least, with business school applications if you still plan on applying. In summary, this mentorship program provides you the following:
  • Feedback and advice on your business idea
  • If appropriate, introductions to the venture capital or appropriate industry community in order to help take your idea to the next level
  • Awards and recognition for the best plans, which will help differentiate you in business school applications should you still decide to apply to b-school. 
To find out more, visit the program's page here.