Apex2023: An all-star cohort of veteran-led ventures
Only winners here. Pre-seed companies across industries — from digital health and fertility to modern jewelry and small-format retail — join NYU Tandon Veterans Future Lab
Companies that address the needs of a digital-first world in the realms of fintech, health, luxe jewelry, emergency response, and more — the NYU Tandon Veterans Future Lab is proud to welcome Apex2023.
Apex2023 is our fifth cohort of the 9-month program for ventures led by veterans and military spouses. Now placed at the intersection of innovation and entrepreneurship, the companies join the NYU Tandon community committed to supporting veterans in their professional and personal goals. “We’re excited to support these founders building their ventures for digital-first audiences and looking forward to seeing them grow,” says Alexa Modero, Director, VFL. “There’s nowhere better for them to shape their companies’ futures than at one of the nation’s leading engineering schools — one with an established reputation for entrepreneurship and veteran commitment — in one of the fastest growing tech ecosystems within a top city for veteran entrepreneurs.”
NYU Tandon launched the Veterans Future Lab supported by Barclays as a Tri-State Area resource, but the programs now have ever-widening reach, sharing the dynamic resources of Brooklyn’s Innovation Coastline, Future Labs’ expertise, and Tandon’s world-class resources. The latest Apex cohort encompasses founders from around the US. Some ventures align with NYU Tandon’s research Areas of Excellence and others focus on solutions that empower, but each brings its own brand of game-changing innovation, commitment, and tenacity.
Founder: Omar Fuentes | US Marine Corps
Omar Fuentes’ father passed away prematurely after recovering from a major stroke and not receiving the care he needed for his diabetes. Fuentes’ brother died by suicide. After a staggering 3 years of health issues, Fuentes’ wife was diagnosed with Hodgkins’ lymphoma. It was clear to Fuentes, a US Marine Corps veteran who has spent almost 2 decades working in healthcare, that the medical landscape needed improving.
Cue accelEQ, which uses the latest in automated transcription and machine learning technology to accurately capture, analyze, and categorize the patient/provider experience. The result: Greater efficiency so the medical provider can focus on patient care. accelEQ combats physician burnout, reducing administrative paperwork so that doctors can spend more time with their patients — an improvement for everyone.
Founders: Dustin Shryock, MBA | US Army + Gerard Ilaria, LCSW + Ann Beeder, MD
Location: New York
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an evidence-based therapeutic intervention with a high success rate for treating trauma and PTSD. Much to the shock of US Army and Iraq War veteran Dustin Shryock — whose military service in the Intelligence Corps included 3 years conducting operations in and around Baghdad — there was no virtual treatment option available. Therapy had to be conducted in person.
In true veteran fashion, Shryock dedicated himself to solving the problem. With Gerard Ilaria, Director of Weill Cornell’s renowned Center for Trauma and Addiction, and Clinton Global Initiative Award winner Dr. Ann Beeder, Shryock (himself an NYU Stern MBA, NYU Wagner MPA, and former member of a mental health nonprofit) launched BLS Remote, a first mover in the remote EMDR device space. Through its patented technology, BLS Remote allows EMDR-trained physicians to work remotely and securely with their patients, wherever they are.
Founder: Lindsay Helm | US Army
Limited business networks and the struggle to translate military skills to the corporate world have a big impact on veterans and military spouses. Nearly a third of veterans are under-employed and are 15% more likely to be so compared to civilian counterparts. Empower Employ addresses the multi-pronged problem of transitioning veterans and military spouses into a fulfilling, rewarding civilian life.
Launched by US Army veteran Lindsay Helm, Empower Employ connects corporates and the military community. On offer: Sourcing, customized training and education solutions for employers, and a talent SAAS platform that lets hiring managers and job seekers connect easily and directly. Helm has 10+ years of experience in engineering and management (including stints at Amazon and Intuit) under her belt, and is an alum of the VFL’s VET-I and VET-II programs.
Founder: Jordan Foley | US Navy
In 2019, US Naval officer Jordan Foley was studying at Georgetown Law when he learned that a friend and fellow Navy veteran had died by suicide while struggling with debts as he launched a startup. Foley embarked upon helping veterans start and sustain small businesses.
Let’s Chow provides culinary education and business advice, and also cooking therapy and cookware donations, for anyone from home chefs to aspiring food truck owners or restaurateurs. The nonprofit has a focus on food trucks — though they can be a lucrative business, there are high starting costs and other barriers to entry. Now a national nonprofit with trucks in San Diego, Atlantic City, and Annapolis, Let’s Chow provides truck rental, maintenance support, and regulatory guidance.
Founder: James McCarter| US Marine Corps
James McCarter knows cybersecurity: The US Marine Corps veteran is a Korean cryptologic linguist, led cyber operations training teams at NATO Special Operations Forces, and was the former Director of Threat Intelligence at root9B. With his own venture, Shadowscape, McCarter tackles cyber fatigue, the dangerous dilemma organizations find themselves in when keeping up with cybercrime seems simply unsustainable.
Shadowscape is an intelligence-driven cybersecurity training and analytics company making enterprise-level security accessible to SMBs. Their platform Threatsphere simplifies understanding cyber risks, outlines how to mitigate them, and provides prioritized details of exactly what organizations need — and don’t — to secure their networks. Focused on knowing the enemy to predict behavior, Shadowscape follows its founder’s lifelong aim: To protect the undefended and facilitate freedom from exploitation.
Founder: Adam Cole | US Navy
Location: Virginia + Zambia
Cole’s Navy journey has brought him in close contact with those who have barely enough money to buy shoes. After Operation Unified Assistance, the military relief effort for earthquake-hit Haiti in 2010, he started a charity to help victims there. More than a decade later, after issuing hundreds of micro-loans across the globe through a web of partnerships, Cole launches SparkUp as a way to digitize the predominantly cash-based financing system in Africa.
SparkUp is a mobile application that works much like Venmo. Rather than bank-to-bank transfers, though, the platform allows users to upload funds from mobile money accounts as the majority of the population is unbanked. SparkUp’s goal is to reduce the transaction fees associated with mobile money transfers and ‘spark’ prosperity. The company is headquartered in Virginia, with an operating base in Zambia, where a team of 5 runs day-to-day operations on the ground.
Founder: Jordan Brehove | US Army
Location: New Jersey
Taak is modernizing consumer packaged goods (CPG) sales processes and technology. The Taak platform connects CPG brand customers with a network of small-format retail clerks to both introduce consumer engagements and improve in-store merchandising. By engaging retail clerks to perform efforts currently executed by field sales and merchandising teams, brands can improve the cost and speed of retail marketing as well as increase sales and accelerate product introduction thanks to direct consumer engagement. On the retail side, clerks participating in Taak’s program can benefit from augmented income and upskilling opportunities. At its core, Taak creates a more efficient and effective retail sales ecosystem benefiting brands, retailers, and retail clerks.
CEO Jordan Brehove is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army Reserve, twice awarded the Bronze Star in combat. He holds an MBA from Wharton and MPA from Harvard, and managed teams at Accenture, MakerBot, and JUUL Labs with 6 different high-growth P&Ls across the years, even bringing 1 to unicorn status.
Founder: Haotian Bai | US Army
Third-party reproduction, such as surrogacy, egg donation, and the like., has grown almost 350% in the past decade. This rise in assisted reproductive technologies, unsurprisingly, brings with it complex process management and paperwork. Serving the fertility industry and designed for fertility lawyers and trust account managers, TrustUS, cofounded by US Army veteran Haotian Bai and software engineer Wenjian Li, is a SaaS platform that puts client-attorney trust/escrow account management on autopilot, and includes escalated approval workflow and payment automation. Bai has significant experience in the booming fertility space — he’s founded 2 surrogacy-focused companies already.
Founder: Brian Elliot | US Army + Andrew Wolgemuth | US Army
Taking all the guesswork out of custom jewelry. US Army veterans and West Point grads Brian Elliot and Andrew Wolgemuth are building the engagement ring for today’s couple. Wove helps couples to collaborate on a custom design, with advice and input from a pro jewelry designer, if needed. The personal creation is then made into an exact replica to try at home, where couples can ‘test-drive’ the ring, make adjustments, and then buy their final ring through Wove — all without any uncertainty.
Founder: Gabe Cavazos | US Army
Motorcycle accidents kill thousands and significantly injure nearly 95,000 riders every year, and crash victims must often rely on passing motorists for aid. After losing a soldier to a motorcycle accident, Gabe Cavazos — one of the US Army’s first software developers — left the service to develop and launch Wrexx.
Wrexx expedites EMS notifications to send life-saving aid to the scene of a crash in under 2 minutes via an automatic crash and theft response system. Supported by a global rescue center and leveraging machine learning for accuracy, Wrexx is going full speed ahead on its mission of “No rider left behind”.
This year was an extraordinarily competitive application process. We’re grateful to everyone who applied, and to the veteran entrepreneurship community for referrals, recommendations, and their work in spreading the word. Apex2023 runs from September 2022 to June 2023, supporting startups with startup mentorship, desk space in a like-minded community, access to some of the brightest minds in engineering (including a talent pipeline for for-credit interns), generous benefits from gold-standard service providers including Goodwin and Amazon Web Services, and more. If you or your organization would like to support or connect with Apex2023, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to join our next cohort, attend VFL events, or just keep an eye on next-gen veteran and military spouse founders, sign up for our newsletter!
Contributor: Pamela Majumdar