By Anthony Armelino Jr., EBV Program Manager, IVMF
Wow, this year the Institute for Veterans and Military Families reached it’s 10-year anniversary of continuous operation of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV)! Since its inception, the program at Syracuse University has expanded to a total of ten universities that have graduated over 1,300 veterans and family members. This past week, the Syracuse University EBV team brought together 27 veterans from four different military branches and 11 different states to gain knowledge to be successful business owners and entrepreneurs. Each of them were at varying stages of their business stage; some with only a great idea and a potential market, while others were already running a business. Regardless, each one contributed a unique perspective and brought an interesting flavor to the course. Statistically speaking, 68% or 18 of these graduates will go on to start a business. Of those starting their business, it is likely that 93% or 16 of these business owners and EBV graduates will remain in business through perseverance and conviction to stay the course. Their future looks bright and filled with hope.
But before we look to their future, we must first look to our past.
Back in 2007, a new associate professor in the Whitman School of Management had an idea to create a fully-funded program to train disabled service members to be entrepreneurs. Coming from the Air Force as an academy instructor, he knew the value that our military members could bring to the business community and felt the calling to support the military community through education. With his tenacity, amazing support from the Dean Melvin Stith, and help from donors, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans was born. As most readers know, that professor and prior Air Force officer is Dr. Mike Haynie, the current Vice Chancellor of Veteran and Military Affairs at Syracuse University and the Executive Director and Founder for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.
That same year in 2007, halfway across campus, a small class of approximately 15 Army cadets were commissioning as shiny, newly minted second lieutenants. One of them in particular, a prior enlisted combat engineer would commission and remain on campus to work with the ROTC department as the Gold Bar recruiter. Fortunately for that Gold Bar recruiter and officer, the first program of EBV would be kicking off where he could assist by being the airport greeter and driver to the 17 disabled veterans attending the course. That officer would go on to serve over the next several years on active duty in a multitude of positions, eventually leaving the service to work in corporate America. As luck would have it, he would circle back ten years later to Syracuse University and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families to serve his brothers and sisters as part of the programs and services team. As many readers may not know, that former Army officer is me.
Let’s move back into the present to Saturday, July 16, 2016. Day one of the EBV program…
The weather was great with clear skies and sunny weather. A group of 27 veterans flew and drove to Syracuse where they would rally for the first time over breakfast. They talked a little bit and made some brief introductions. But for the most part the room was silent. Many of them were nervous about being back at “bootcamp,” expecting at any minute a Drill Sergeant or Drill Instructor would pop out of the woodwork and make them do push-ups. Some of them were curious about how “free” this course was, anticipating one of the IVMF staff members would be asking for their credit card information for a hidden service fee for the course. Fortunately, neither of those scenarios played out. Meanwhile, while the veterans ate their breakfast, a small team of IVMF staff met discuss the daily agenda. This EBV core team represented merely a small fraction of the IVMF family who would help manage the course. As it takes a whole village to raise a child, it also takes a whole village of IVMF staff to educate a group of veterans.
The veterans met each day at the Whitman School of Management and were educated on a variety of business topics. Over the course of the week, they each shared their stories and opened up with intimate details to their fellow classmates. Each veteran had a unique story to tell. Here are a few:
- One female veteran opened up that she stayed in bed for months at a time, frozen in place due to intense depression and anxiety. It was her love for clothing that got her out bed and out the door to share her passion with those who may be struggling with a similar situation.
- Another Marine veteran in the class wanted to share the motivational impact of the military with civilians in the community. He created a military style indoor obstacle course and training regime that shares the esprit de corps with those who didn’t join the military.
- A young veteran started an ADA business compliance training course specializing in service dogs after being refused service at a hotel because she had a service dog. She also plans on offering inexpensive dog training to families unable to afford dog training from big box animal stores.
- A classmate announced his wife texted him a picture of four pregnancy tests, confirming they were expecting a child.
- Another announced he was able to schedule a meeting with a few potential investors the week following the EBV course to help his business venture of connecting libraries and its patrons together in a more efficient manner.
There are several more stories with flavorful histories about their military background and their passion to start a business. Each one just as motivational and inspiring as the last.
More importantly, during the course of the week and each day something interesting started to happen. A room of 27 veterans and IVMF staff slowly became friends. They started to collect at the tables in the morning and laugh and joke about the previous day’s events. Many evenings after the class was over, they would huddle in the hotel lobby to work with each other to develop their business pitch or develop a company name. Some helped with personal struggles back home. The IVMF staff discovered there was as much to learn from the veterans as there was for the veterans to learn from the IVMF staff.
By the end of the week, each of veterans stood just a little taller and just a little more confidently. They did so because they knew their family had grown larger. They weren’t just veterans trying to start a business on their own. They weren’t lone wolves out to attack the world single-handedly. They were now members of a larger and interconnected family of EBV graduates and IVMF members. They left the class ready to take on the world, or at least the small portion of the market they selected for the business to serve.