Small Talk: Saluting veteran entrepreneurs
We start with a program offered by Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management called the “Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities“, that just announced it is expanding to include a sixth school, the University of Connecticut’s School of Business. The program, which teaches disabled veterans how to become small business owners, was started by Mike Haynie three years ago and has a current enrollment of 125. To date 225 veterans have gone through the program since 2006.
Haynie, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Whitman, told The Post-Standard that he gets 400 applications annually and hates to turn veterans away. “It kills me to have to write a letter to a vet saying, sorry, we can’t help you,” Haynie told the Post-Standard about the program, which has been funded by donations from SU alumni and entrepreneurs. Haynie said the latest expansion will boost enrollment to 150, but he has plans to take the program nationwide. To help facilitate that goal the U.S. government’s Small Business Administration is giving Haynie $450,000 over the next three years.
The program, which is free for veterans, includes a five-week online component, after which participants are flown to one of the participating universities for an intensive 10-day course where they receive instruction on making a business plan, marketing, supply-chain management and legal issues. Accounting firm Ernst & Young donated $50,000 to help Haynie offer additional training to the spouses and other family members of disabled veterans.
Another vehicle to help veteran entrepreneurs is the website ChangeCorp.us, which is an information aggregation platform where veteran business owners can post questions and receive answers from their entrepreneurial peers. The website, currently operating in test mode, also reviews other veteran-based resource sites and its stated mission is “to become an open-source tool controlled by veterans for veterans.”
One of the best resources for veterans seeking advice on how to start, maintain, or grow a business is the SCORE website, which offers 1-on-1 advice from a host of retired business executives from across the country. The site includes links to funding organizations and has a very helpful article detailing what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
Jonathan Bekemeyer got help from SCORE to start his Port Royal, SC-based skateboard shop – Killer Peaks – in 2006, after the decorated former Marine (3rd battalion, 5th Marines) returned home from a tour in Iraq, in which he was wounded twice during the siege of Fallujah in 2004. Earlier this year Bekemeyer’s entrepreneurial effort was honored as the SCORE’s Outstanding Veteran-owned Business Award.
Another cutting-edge business started by a former Iraq war veteran, is Local Motors, a crowd-sourced automobile company whose designs are submitted by an online community of engineers, designers and car enthusiasts. Co-founder Jay Rogers, who also served as a Marine in Iraq in 2004, got the idea for his company while on duty when he saw how the impact America’s reliance on foreign oil – mostly due to cars – was contributing to the country’s military presence in Iraq and decided he could help prevent future conflicts by producing more sustainable vehicles. Rogers told Reuters he placed himself on inactive reserve, came home and enrolled at the Harvard Business School and “started writing the plan for a new car company.” Local Motors just released its first vehicle – the Rally Fighter – that retails for $50,000 and is tailored for off-road use in the deserts of the American Southwest. Rogers said he plans to produce nine more Rally Fighters by next spring.