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Class Notes

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2019 WPAOG Entrepreneur Summit

On April 10-11, approximately 140 graduates returned to West Point for a networking dinner followed by a full day of panels, pitches, and practical tips at the second West Point Association of Graduates Entrepreneur Summit. According to Guy Filippelli ’97, 2019 WPAOG Entrepreneur Summit Chair, the attendees of the summit were a mix of aspiring entrepreneurs, experienced CEOs, investors, and service providers, but they all came to be inspired in their business ventures and to form new avenues for partnership and collaboration with other members of the Long Gray Line.  [SEE PHOTOS]

The idea for an Entrepreneur Summit began with Doug Doan ’79 and some other members of his class. “We saw a group of young entrepreneurs made up of service academy graduates, the quality of whom was greater than any of us, but they were not being valued by the investment community,” said Doan. “We agreed that we will exclusively invest in their young companies, but, more than money, we also agreed to mentor them, knowing that the leadership training they received at West Point and the skills they gained in the military made them better equipped and better prepared to run and grow a company than anybody else on the planet.” The idea of providing money and mentorship to young grad entrepreneurs led to the first WPAOG Entrepreneur Summit in October 2017.

“There’s an entrepreneurial spirit inherent in the West Point experience,” said Filippelli. “One doesn’t attend West Point to become an entrepreneur, and going here doesn’t automatically make you an entrepreneur, but every grad has likely had an entrepreneurial thought or has been part of an entrepreneurial venture.” Related to this last point, Elad Yoran ’91, one of the summit’s guest speakers, noted how the archetype of the entrepreneur is a platoon leader, someone who operates with scant resources, leading a small group under tough conditions, in order to execute a defined mission.

“Being an entrepreneur is like facing the Cadet in the Red Sash over and over again,” said Josh Lospinoso ’09, who felt the conference provided the perfect venue for attendees to “commiserate” together, find valuable take-aways in others’ experiences, and get advice in a friendly environment. “It’s been tremendous for networking,” he said.

Whether they attended to get advice on starting and funding a company, to share experiences, to scout investment opportunities or partnerships, or to volunteer their time and services, the 2019 WPAOG Entrepreneur Conference provided an environment in which everyone was able to benefit. And like other great entrepreneurial endeavors, the conference is looking to take it to the next level in the future.

In his closing remarks, Filippelli noted that graduates would soon be filing an application to turn the Entrepreneur Summit into a WPAOG Special Interest Group (SIG) similar to West Point Women, West Point Parents, and the West Point Alumni Glee Club. WPAOG SIGs are communities of alumni that actively communicate or gather around a central unifying purpose and a common shared affinity or bond based on shared experience, background, identity, academic affiliation, profession or other West Point-related interest beyond class year or society affiliation. “I find that I share more in common with a grad from the 1970s who is in venture capital or with one from the 1980s who has done a cyber-security setup than the regular class or geographic bonds that typically define graduates,” said Lospinoso. By becoming a SIG, the graduates of the Entrepreneur Summit are hoping to do more, especially regarding virtual technology (e.g., webinars), and with more members.

“There’s a lot of passion in this room,” said Filippelli, “and with the right planning, the right communication platform, and the right support from WPAOG, this group could do great things for the West Point entrepreneurial community.”