Air University “Pitch-Fest” Has Colorado Guard Angle

  • Published
  • By U.S. Air Force Capt. Peter Shinn
  • Officer Training School
Denver investor and 140th Fighter Wing community sponsor, Mr. Charles Von Thun, joined Alabama business leaders as they participated with Air University (AU) staff, faculty, and students Jan. 23 to evaluate a series of 60-second "elevator pitches".

The Guard and Reserve Network, or GARNET, sponsored this first-ever "AU Pitch-Fest", held at the Air War College. Citizen-Airmen, Citizen-Soldiers, active members and veterans received constructive feedback after pitching their big idea, their qualifications for their next job or any other topic they chose.

Chief Master Sgt. Carl Collins, the Air National Guard's Senior Advisor to the Barnes Center for Enlisted Education and GARNET's co-founder, said an elevator pitch is what you might say to someone in a position of influence or power if you had just a minute or two of their time.

"Imagine stepping onto an elevator with the Secretary of Defense or the CEO of a major company," Collins said. "Rather than making small talk about the weather during the ride up to the executive suites, a polished pitch allows anyone to potentially convince that senior leader to continue the discussion in more detail later."

Col Edward Vaughan, a fighter pilot with the Colorado Air National Guard since 2008, serves as Advisor to the Commander and President of Air University and is GARNET's other co-founder. Citing recent unemployment numbers, he said opportunities to practice and improve brief presentation skills, like the AU Pitch-Fest, are an important part of GARNET's mission to help veteran's find meaningful work.

"Why should Silicon Valley and Seattle have all the fun of pitching business start-ups to potential investors?" Vaughan asked. "Military veterans represent a creative, results-oriented segment of our workforce that can thrive when exposed to entrepreneurial methods and language," he added. "Even if our Colorado Guardsmen just back from combat deployments don't want to start a business, these skills are vital for success in today's job market."

A panel of local business leaders evaluated the pitches, which at this first event focused on military-related value propositions. Lt. Col. Ron Daniels, Air National Guard Advisor to the Spaatz Center for Officer Education, pitched an initiative to expand education programs for military members.

"On the spot feedback from experienced business professionals made Pitch-fest a Game changer for me," Daniels said. "That feedback translates to my ambitions beyond the military and will make me more effective the next time I have to be persuasive, but brief."

Denver's Von Thun, an angel investor and serial entrepreneur, associated with Colorado-based Decisioneering, PositiveWare, Flonomics, and Hangar 30, among others, said he was pleasantly surprised by what he observed.

"I see hundreds of business pitches in my line of work," Von Thun said. "With this group of reserve and guard members, just a little guidance and practice will pay big returns. This kind of event is refreshing as it truly prepares veterans to enter the private sector with the right tools for today's technology-fueled economy."

Col. Raymond O'Mara, PhD, Chairman of the Strategy Department at Air War College, and a member of the active component, provided additional feedback to the presenters at the event.

"The Pitch-Fest highlighted the critical nature of the ability to express yourself clearly and organize complex concepts into a coherent message," O'Mara said.

Montgomery businessman Mark Langley, a retired ANG officer whose Langley and Associates Group consults with the Georgia Tech Research Institute, and Michael Cameron, a finishing plant manager with Sabic Innovative Plastics in Burkville, Ala., served other presentation evaluators.

Col. Vince Bugeja, Air Force Reserve Advisor to the Spaatz Center for Officer Education, made a brief, persuasive case for the services he provides higher echelon commanders. He said he enjoyed the opportunity to practice his skills and is eager to do so again.

"I'm a charter member of GARNET, and I'm looking forward to our next Pitch-Fest in April." Bugeja continued, "Such candid feedback from private sector professionals opened my eyes to the importance of the words we choose. This will not only help us become more effective in our military work, it will enable us to refine our civilian resumes for maximum impact."

Vaughan intends to bring a military-focused "pitchfest" to Colorado in the coming months. Those interested in participating can contact the organizers, Vaughan and Collins, through the Guard and Reserve Network group on LinkedIn.

Vaughan added, "Language matters. If a prospective investor or employer doesn't understand your value proposition, you won't get past square one." He summed up, "Practicing one's pitch in public, with a forum for constructive feedback, will differentiate our GARNET members in any government or commercial space."

Vaughan and Collins founded GARNET last year to formalize career and professional networking among members of the Guard and Reserve from all military branches. Such members typically have hybrid careers consisting of a mix of civilian and military work experience. According to Vaughan, GARNET currently has over 300 members in 15 states, with most of those also participating in the GARNET LinkedIn page.