Bradley Harrison, Founder, Managing Partner at Scout Ventures, discusses how military professionals are engaging in entrepreneurship with an ecosystem supporting them. Quite fascinating!
Sramana Mitra: Let’s introduce you to our audience. Tell us a bit about your background as well as what you’re doing at Scout.
Bradley Harrison: I’ve always been an entrepreneur. My dad was an entrepreneur. From the earliest stages, I’ve always had a business from cutting lawns to painting company. Then I wound up going to the United States Military Academy at West Point. I studied Theoretical Economics and spent five years serving as an airborne ranger.
Then I came out of that and transitioned through the MBA program at MIT studying New Product and Venture Development. So that was focused on building products to building business and how you basically become an entrepreneur. I was very fortunate that I was there during the first dot-com bubble. I got to see the insanity of people dropping out of school, launching a company, and selling it for a billion dollars six months later.
Then I also got to see the implosion. I got to see how when you don’t have core fundamental strengths and you don’t operate with discipline, focus, and purpose, you’re not going to have a real business.
I spent time at America Online. I got some experience on how a big tech company thinks about everything. Then I went to a small tech company that was in the contextual advertising space and grew that to about $100 million in revenue. At that juncture, I realized that I wanted to help multiple entrepreneurs. It was more a fit for me to help multiple entrepreneurs than it was to just focus on one company.
I started advising. I was very fortunate that I got to come across some really amazing entrepreneurs. One of my favorites early on was a guy named Amar Goyal who started Pubmatic. I saw that from day one all the way through IPO. Then in 2009, I started investing.
By 2011, I had created my first fund. We called it the BHV Entrepreneurship Fund. The purpose was to enable entrepreneurs. We viewed our role as using our capital and experience to make smart entrepreneurs build great companies. That was our goal. Fast forward, we have four funds now. I’ve built out the team. I have two other partners – Wes Blackwell and Sam Ellis. Then our associate who is also a graduate of the Naval Academy.
Now we have a very strong focus on what we call hard-to-access founders, which are founders coming out of the military, intelligence community, and leading research institutions in national labs. That’s people transitioning out of the military similar to the way I did. These are people coming out of the NSA and CIA who have spent a lot of time working and developing technologies and are now becoming civilians. Then people out of places like Carnegie-Mellon, Georgia Tech, MIT, and the national labs.
We focus on dual-use technology that has both a government use as well as a commercial use. Our secret sauce is, we tap into non-dilutive government funding. It’s neither debt nor equity. It shows up in the books as revenue, but it’s really a program grant. That can come from the Army, Air Force, or a national science foundation. It really depends.