Entrepreneurs, active-duty military team up in Battlefields and Boardrooms

By Jeanne McKinney

Solutions were on the minds of game-changing entrepreneurs and active-duty military personnel who came together at Pacifica Del Mar Restaurant on Jan. 16 for the launch of a new program. Two companies, Gen Next and Disruptive Thinkers, launched their mission to bring civilian and military cultures together in a collaboration and exchange of useful ideas that can affect growth and change in each environment.

Ben Kohlmann, of Disruptive Thinkers, is a Navy pilot based at MCAS Miramar flying with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT- 101), the Sharpshooters, as an instructor pilot. The idea came about when he and a few junior officer friends were trying to find ways to expand and leverage the ideas of young people in the military, who may be held back from advancement by a more traditional system. Disruptive Thinkers’ starting goal is to bring innovation and entrepreneurship to the military. An ultimate goal is to lessen the culture shock upon leaving active duty.

Kohlman said, “There’s a growing civil/military divide because our cultures are different — you need some bridge for that.” The dual mentorship of Battlefields and Boardrooms was born, a year-long program designed for pairs of people to meet together six times, three in a group and three in alternating work environments to share knowledge and take what is learned back to their job.

“If I can pull from other spheres of knowledge and practices of successful people, I can potentially do my job better as an officer.” He adds, “Let’s bring that into the military to help us with cultural change that can fundamentally transform the way we do business and make us a better [fighting] force.”

Kohlman wanted to match up his military compatriots with the high-quality individuals at Gen Next, a company founded by Paul Makarechian, a successful and passionate entrepreneur. Natalie Alvarez, director of Communications and Special Projects for Gen Next said, “Mr. Makarechian and some of his friends realized they had the vision and means to make a difference in a down-turned society, but were sitting on the sidelines, feeling less empowered.” They created a nonprofit membership organization that focusses on economic growth, education reform, and global security with an intent to institute long-term change.

Beck Bamberger, public relations CEO of Bam Communications and new Gen Next member, provided her local services to set up the gathering. Blair Kohn, a regional director for Gen Next, kicked off the program, excited to introduce keynote speaker Eric Basu, CEO of Sentek Global and former Navy SEAL. “Eric really exemplifies what Gen Next and Disruptive Thinkers is trying to accomplish,” Kohlmann said.

Basu, after leaving the military, got his MBA at UCLA and founded his own company that provides cyber security and command and control systems for the Department of Defense. He loved being a SEAL and now he loves being an entrepreneur, able to command and control his own life and positively affect the lives of those he leads in the civilian sector.

He’s taken skills and talents learned from his military career and implemented them into his company – running it like a special operations team. He pushes the drive to excellence he knows so well as a SEAL to his company employees.

“We’re not just here to fill bodies in seats or punch a clock for a salary. We heavily train the best people and send them out to help our clients, so ideally our clients can look back and say, ‘Sentek Global did far better than another competitor. They care and are here to make a difference,’” Basu said. This, he feels, can impact his industry in important ways and provide a model others can learn from.

Basu said he feels a responsibility to help others transition from the military. “I think we have as a country, a duty to the person who puts on a uniform and is willing to give up everything for a modest salary so we can live the life we do.” He went over an impressive list of strengths a former military member can bring to the civilian work place.

Micha Mikailian, a successful entrepreneur and Gen Next member was meeting his active-duty mentee for the first time. Mikailian wants to bring his strengths to him, “I want to work with my mentee and gain context on what he’s looking to do with his life in the military, so I can give him context (from the public sector) that’s going to have a positive impact on his future. I also want to learn from him — to bring decision-making skills or disciplines he’s received through his experience that relates to what I do in day- to-day life.”

For more information, visit