Over 50 veterans, active military personnel and their spouses came from all over the country to Chapel Hill in July for Patriot Boot Camp, a startup weekend unlike any other. The weekend consisted of various speakers, panels, workshops, intensive mentoring sessions and culminated in a final pitch event on Sunday morning.
August 14, 2015
Marine Vet, Tiger Eye Security Sensor Founder Wins Techstars Patriot Boot Camp in Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill and UNC Online hosted the first Southeast Patriot Boot Camp last month, helping to create more veteran-owned startups and entrepreneurs.
But while the attendees came from all over, the winner of the final pitch competition hails from the town just outside Raleigh known as Clayton. She’s CJ Scarlet, a Marine veteran and inventor of Tiger Eye Security Sensor (TESS), a voice-activated wearable device designed to protect people from becoming victims of assaults. (ExitEvent profiled her in March.)
While TESS seems like a cool gadget, it is so much more than that for Scarlet. As a rape survivor, she has dedicated her professional career to advocating for assault and domestic violence victims. She’s worked with non-profits, run a child advocacy center, and served as director of victims issues for the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office. She also holds a master’s degree in human violence.
“It took me about 10 years—I grappled with the trauma and then I took my power back and became an advocate for others who had been victimized,” she says.
Now Scarlett is ready to use her skills as an entrepreneur to prevent people from becoming victims altogether. TESS is just one of many products that she intends to release under her 10 for Humanity brand. All have a mission to reduce occurrences of rape, domestic violence and bullying by 10% over the next 10 years.
“I understand crime and violence and victim mentality from every angle,” Scarlet says. “I was just tired of dealing with crime after it happened. I wanted to do something to keep it from happening at all and that’s why I invented TESS.”
TESS is a quarter-sized cube that attaches to clothing. It’s unobtrusive and hardly noticeable, however when the wearer is being attacked, it can make the difference in preventing an assault. The device is voice-activated and connects the user to an operator who can contact law enforcement and verbally warn the perpetrator to leave the scene. The device also records audio and takes photos to help investigators identify the suspect later on.
Scarlet says she should have a working prototype complete in about three weeks and will start testing. She hopes to get the product to market by 2016.
Scarlet has been heavily involved in the Triangle entrepreneurship community since 2014 when she started the company, and loves the culture, however there’s something special about spending time with other veterans.
“There’s a rapport that you don’t get anywhere else. I just felt so energized all weekend,” she says.
Attendees got to hear from Techstars vice president Dave Drach, Army veteran and Facebook product manager Anthony Pompliano and former Army Chief of Staff General George Casey. Triangle locals like David Jones of Bull City Venture Partners, Corey Post of the Digital Marketing Foundry, serial entrepreneur and author Randy Nelson and SoloPro CEO Tommy Sowers gave talks or served as mentors. Tyler Matthews of the Durham startup SoloPro blogged about the experience here.
But a big win from the weekend was the camaraderie built between teams. Army veteran Ray Antonino compared it to his experience coming through actual military boot camp, calling fellow attendees “a battle buddy in the military”: “You felt like you were next to somebody who’s going to save your life. It’s the same experience here.”
Antonino attended with his wife and business partner Rebecca. The pair attended Patriot Boot Camp a few months ago in New York while working on a construction management app called Field Vine. With that product gaining traction, they have begun work on another app called Permit Zone, a product to help contractors and homeowners more easily obtain permits.
The event in Chapel Hill was KC Chhipwadia’s third Patriot Boot Camp. The chance to be around other veterans and knowledge he gains from PBC keeps him coming back.
“Each one is a little bit different and each one I take several things that I add to my tool box—the network, the knowledge, everything,“ he says.
Chhipwadia served as an officer in the US Navy on a Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan prior to retiring from active duty in 2013. He plans to launch his startup later this year. All Beast will be a service designed to help student-athletes take their passion for sports and plan for life on and off the field.
Scarlet agreed that the lessons she learned at Patriot Boot Camp were every bit as valuable as the network building and camaraderie.
“The mentoring sessions were phenomenal,” she says. “We are on the cusp of having a big investment opportunity and two of the mentors gave me feedback that made me look at it from a completely different angle (…) that will lead us in a much better, more productive, more profitable direction.”
The mentoring sessions gave Antonino a new perspective on outside investment when a mentor suggested pre-selling to customers.
“I had never ever heard of that before. I’ve been immersed in the world of entrepreneurship and the tech world and it’s all been bootstrap or VC or angel… so something so basic as that… That’s the answer to my prayer. I don’t have to give away equity to build what I want to build,” he says.
The next Patriot Boot Camp will be held in Detroit in October and both Antonino and Chhipwadia plan to attend.
Antonino encourages veterans from around the country serious about being entrepreneurs to join them: “What we need help with now is bringing more awareness to other folks just like us—veteran-entrepreneurs… Help the Triangle region know that this exists and that we can bring this to Detroit.”