A total of 18 military veterans from all demographics and several branches of service gathered in College Station on Saturday to begin eight days of vigorous “boot camp” training from the Mays Business School, intent on receiving the resources they need to start their own businesses.
Saturday marked the kickoff for the ninth consecutive year of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities hosted at Texas A&M, with no shortage of enthusiasm and big dreams from the 18 former service members.
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities is a nationwide program with branches at Cornell University, Louisiana State University, the University of Connecticut, Purdue University, Florida State University, UCLA. Syracuse University, St. Joseph’s University and the University of Missouri in addition to A&M.
“We like to think of this as an ‘MBA in a week,’” said Blake Petty, director of the Mays’ Center for Entrepreneurship. “It’s called boot camp because everyone gets up early and has a classroom exposure every day. Then at 6 p.m. every night we have mentoring with successful local business owners who will talk to participants. The veterans will be running from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day this week and on Saturday will be presenting a Power Point outlining their business plan.”
This workshop, an intensive set of business courses led by A&M professors, is free, including accommodations, to the veterans, who went through a screening process to proved their dedication to their dreams, Petty said.
“It’s a competitive process to select those who are interested in coming here,” he said. “We screen them and call them, asking them about their business ideas.
“Many have launched businesses already and are now looking to solve problems and grow. This is a unique system and we want to make sure that those who are a part of it are in it for real.”
One individual in attendance on Saturday is interested in beginning a sports program for children, while another vet wants to begin a daycare center. A double-amputee veteran from San Antonio said he loves poetry and music and has a desire to have a line of music studios. One individual wants to start his own hotel, while another wants to start work in advertising and publishing.
“Almost every single person who goes through this program has the intention to hire other veterans,” Petty said. “All of them want to build a business and hire their buddies, their veteran comrades. ...
“Usually the ideas they have are restaurant themed,” Petty said. “Last year we had a food truck idea.
“Most of these folks have a passion for something that could be as simple as a dry cleaners, or opening a new franchise.”
Lisa Chatman, a contracting officer in Dallas and 12-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said her dream is to develop software and online programs used to help the elderly as well as disadvantaged youth, providing resources via the internet for those unable to obtain them otherwise. Chatman is the sole proprietor of the business she is growing, known as Granted Advocacy Partner or GAP, and wants to learn how to expand her company, fueled by her passion for helping those in need.
“About five years ago, my son’s great grandmother went to a nursing home and was neglected and mistreated, and passed away as a result,” Chatman said. “She was mistreated because of her age and people there didn’t see her as a person.”
Stacy Overby, a retired infantry officer of 22 years with the U.S. Army, is a human resources manager living in College Station. He also is a former member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. Overby and his wife have served as mentors for several years with the Mays disabled veterans program, but now he wants to become a student of the program and pursue a special ambition in his life.
“My wife and I have actually volunteered for this program for about six years,” Overby said. “I’ve seen the final product, and it’s incredible, and I wanted to take advantage of that.”
Overby plans to start a company that incorporates his love for woodworking.
“I’ve done woodworking as I’ve traveled through the military for 22 years,” Overby said. “It was my weekend hobby and also my father-in-law’s business.”
According to program directors, 66 percent of the veterans who take part in this national program will have an established limited liability company within six months of leaving the program. Most of the businesses are small, averaging $50,000 in annual revenue, with fewer than five employees.
“Obviously there is a big support network out there for veterans in general and efforts for veterans to land jobs, but there is very little existing for veterans wanting to make their own jobs,” Petty said. “Many of our participants go through other channels and go to the [Veterans Administration] and are provided with things like funding, but are not given the skills. We are bridging the gap with veterans, and particularly with the ones who have disabilities, who are not given guidance.”
The veterans who are attending A&M’s program will spend the next eight days working nonstop, both learning, brainstorming and networking with educators and professionals.