A proven track record is often the biggest hurdle to the success of managers run by women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups. That is especially true for veterans of the U.S. military, most of whom started their corporate careers far later than peers.
J.P. Morgan Asset Management wants to help veterans break into one of the toughest sectors — venture capital. J.P. Morgan’s asset management division said it will commit $25 million to five or more veteran-owned venture capital funds as part of its Project Spark program. Started in 2021, the program supports diverse-owned emerging managers in alternative investments. Asset managers and allocators have made big commitments to diversity, particularly over the last two years. Still, these firms have struggled to win allocations. According to a December Knight Foundation survey, only 1.4 percent of $82 trillion in assets, the study’s sample set, is controlled by diverse-owned firms.
Mark Elliot, head of military and veteran affairs at JPMorgan Chase, told II that veterans make good general partners at venture capital firms because they are “very entrepreneurial in their thinking.” Veterans were required to solve complex problems during military services, which “dovetails well with being an entrepreneur and lends well to being a venture capitalist.” Helping veterans in venture capital is part of the bank’s effort to build a broader ecosystem for them to navigate different career possibilities, he added.
But like other underrepresented groups in investment management, veterans often have limited access to pipeline programs, which have been helpful for women and others, and face challenges with fundraising. According to Ashley Hawkes, who is in charge of business growth and entrepreneurship of military and veterans affairs at JPMorgan Chase, it is not easy to translate military backgrounds in a way that “resonates with the corporate sector.” Compared to their peers who started corporate jobs in the early twenties, veterans who want to enter the investment industry need to demonstrate a greater level of determination, she added.
“The ecosystem for fund managers and the alternative space is not huge [for veterans],” Hawkes said. “We know that there’s roughly 2.5 million [veterans] that are entrepreneurs, but you can probably count only 100 in the alternative space. They have to take a step further to actually start their own venture capital firms.”
The low number of veterans in the industry doesn’t mean they are less qualified money managers. In fact, many aspiring managers with military experience have attended top schools and high-ranking MBA programs, according to Jamie Kramer, head of alternatives solutions at JPMAM. Combined with their military background, veterans can be highly “organized and disciplined” in their investment process, which is a plus in the current market environment.
Kramer added that sometimes veteran managers just need a little help navigating sensitive topics like fundraising. One manager she works with graduated with dual degrees from a top school, but he still needs mentorship on how he interacts with and raises money from investors. “His experience isn’t in the financial sector, but he’s brilliant,” she said. “[We are] helping him see that it’s okay to ask for big checks [based] on his background.”
Many veterans also have valuable skills, such as in technology. According to Hawkes, veterans often have experience in sectors like aerospace and defense, which gives them an edge in analyzing the applicability of such technologies in the commercial world.