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A group of 100 military veterans and their families have launched MilVet Angels, the first and largest investment syndicate for military veterans to invest in tech startups in the U.S.
It comes at an interesting time during the economic downturn when other funds have been drying up, as reported by Pitchbook and the National Venture Capital Association.
MilVet Angels pools together members’ funds to jointly invest in technology startups. Founding members of MilVet Angels led extraordinary military careers in premier U.S. special operations units, such as the Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force.
Members of the built-out syndicate now include veterans with experience in a broad array of government arenas, including the State Department, Department of Justice, Department of Transportation, Department of Energy, the Pentagon, NASA, the White House, and other key areas.
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Since their time in public service, these veterans have found success as technology executives, entrepreneurs, investors, business and finance leaders, lawyers, astronauts, and influencers.
Ahead of its public announcement, MilVet Angels has already enjoyed early success with some of its first investments, including funding a defense technology company that was recently awarded a billion-dollar Department of Defense contract. The group has quietly invested several million dollars of capital to date, and now emerges with its public launch today.
MilVet Angels is an initiative of San Francisco-based venture capital firm Brave Capital.
Origins of MilVet Angels
MilVet Angels started as an informal group of former military veterans and their families discussing the latest developments in venture capital and startups. This early group worked in a broad array of professions – from business and entertainment to law and finance – but they were united by a shared experience of serving in the military and active engagement in the innovation economy.
The group observed a shared trait among successful founders and military veterans: “We recognized that the most successful founders are motivated by a desire to bring about positive change in the world,” said Ernestine Fu, founding investment manager at MilVet Angels and a military spouse, in a statement. “They are driven by a pressing issue that they are determined to address and solve.”
Fu added, “This perspective is not unlike that of military veterans, who have often been deployed to tackle
some of the most complex and pressing humanitarian, economic, and security issues society faces.”
Fu comes from a military family, and her husband spent more than a decade as a U.S. Navy SEAL, deployed many times to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Southeast Asia. Fu is a general partner at Brave Capital, the venture capital firm behind MilVet Angels. (Brave Capital’s leadership team also includes talent from In-Q-Tel, a venture fund that was formed in 1999 for the U.S. intelligence community).
Inspired by these observations, Fu decided to include military veterans and their families in some of the startups she was evaluating and investing in. To further build out this vision, Fu formed MilVet Angels as an investment syndicate for these individuals, where investors pool together their capital, jointly invest in startups, and support those startups through acquisition or IPO.
“MilVet Angels brings together a community of veterans who are actively involved with technology and innovation,” said MilVet Angels member John Kuhn, in a statement. “Participating in MilVet Angels opens doors to a trusted network that fosters lively conversations based on the incredible talent of individuals who have served our country.”
Kuhn is a U.S. Army special operations veteran. He served multiple deployments to the Middle East and Africa following the 9/11 attacks, and then after 20 years of military service, completed his graduate studies at Stanford.
Until now, MilVet Angels has been operating under-the-radar as a strong initial base of investors and pilot investments was put together. During the initial stages of the group’s formation, a few seed-stage investments were made. Defying market expectations, these investments all received additional rounds of financing at higher valuations from major institutional investors within a year of the initial investment.
As one of the earliest investors in these companies, MilVet Angels experienced significant markups on its investments. For example, investments made at valuations of approximately $25 million were then valued at $150 million to $200 million within a year’s time, despite global market conditions. This resulted in a 100% markup in MilVet Angels’ early-stage portfolio.
The group has also invested in later-stage companies. One such company was Anduril Industries, a defense technology startup founded by Oculus cofounder Palmer Luckey in 2017.
The group invested in Anduril’s $450 million Series D financing round at a $4.6 billion post-money valuation in June 2021. Shortly after investing, Anduril was awarded a Department of Defense contract worth nearly $1 billion as a systems integration partner for U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), helping to provide solutions for the growing enemy unmanned aerial systems (UAS) threat. Luckey was featured on the cover of Forbes in 2022 for his work on Anduril, and then the company raised a $1.48 billion Series E financing round at $8.48 billion post-money valuation in November 2022.
MilVet Angels invests in decisive technology
MilVet Angels has an investment thesis to put money into decisive technology.
“We believe that national security needs often predate commercial needs by several years – and in turn, the military has produced some of the most important technologies that have ultimately impacted consumers (GPS, Internet, robotics, etc),” said Fu, “We are especially interested in emerging technologies that will be transformative for private enterprises while also advancing the public good. We’re currently interested in generative AI, robotics, autonomy, and similar themes because they represent novel technologies that can benefit the broadest spectrum of users over the next several years.”
In particular, MilVet Angels focuses on investing in what it calls “decisive technology,” a term coined by Brave Capital. As described in a Brave Capital blog post, decisive technologies are capabilities that were only recently developed, yet are already poised to make a significant impact in the market (e.g., generative AI). Decisive technologies are essentially those with the strongest potential for future impacts – as well as for investment returns.
There are several decisive technologies that have recently emerged in entertainment, including applications with national security use cases. VR/AR applications for training in the defense space are very similar to the types of technical challenges being pursued in VR/AR for gaming. Similarly, a number of simulation topics like crowd dynamics and physical effects have found dual applications in games, feature films, and military training environments.
MilVet Angels also has a preference for investing in technology startups founded or led by military veterans. Brave Capital and MilVet Angels share deal flow, and may co-invest in certain companies when investment criteria are aligned.
MilVet Angels membership criteria and addressing diversity
MilVet Angels is open to military veterans and their families who are accredited investors and intend to be active investors in the venture asset class.
MilVet Angels founding members were recruited from veterans and their family members who were interested in being actively engaged with portfolio companies, beyond just their financial investments. Members’ involvement included making introductions, providing advice, and bringing new opportunities to the network. Additional members have since been added with that lens and also based on referrals.
Though not yet publicly announced, MilVet Angels received overwhelming interest from the military veteran community when it first started investing in its pilot companies – largely because it addressed an as-yet unmet need: accessing the best startup and venture capital opportunities is challenging for anyone who didn’t attend Stanford or hasn’t otherwise spent years cultivating Silicon Valley insider networks. Since veterans typically have spent their careers deployed, or otherwise engaged in public service, outside of Northern California, they have been at a disadvantage. And while they may have cultivated strong networks in and around government, many have been left outside the top echelons of the private sector generally, or the tech sector specifically.
“We believe in including service members who have made the sacrifice to serve our country and dedicate their lives and careers to public service,” said Joel Beam, community lead at Brave Capital and director at MilVet Angels, in a statement. “They are essential to the fabric of our country and the success of our innovation economy.”
Beam is a U.S. Navy SEAL veteran and former COO of SEAL Future Foundation.
“MilVet Angels provides veterans with access to financing rounds in exciting startups. In doing so, we are increasing visibility and representation for military veterans and their families in the venture ecosystem,” said MilVet Angels member Gene Keselman, in a statement. “By making a concerted effort to include diverse investors and limited partners, we can help create a more equitable startup ecosystem.”
Keselman is a U.S. Air Force veteran. He is currently a Lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management, the Executive Director of MIT Mission Innovation Experimental (MIx), and Managing Director of MIT’s venture studio, Proto Ventures.
“We expect our members at MilVet Angels to provide additional value to our portfolio companies beyond just financial capital,” Fu said. “They are expected to bring expertise, energy, contacts, and counsel. This level of engagement benefits our members as well as our portfolio companies, and we look for member candidates who meet these criteria.”
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