An innovative course on entrepreneurship specially designed for disabled veterans wounded since 2001 and made possible by generous donors made an impact on 14 would-be business owners. This is the second year that the program was offered at Mays, one of a five-school national consortium.
The program consists of a three-week online self-study, a nine-day residency period on the A&M campus, and a year of mentorship with an A&M faculty member volunteer as participants launch their new ventures. Here are a few of their stories.
Once on the front line, now ???
Honey Rodgers is a veteran soldier and a mother of four, but you would never guess it. She appears young enough to be fresh out of college, and she has a keen artistic eye and a true love for photography. She recently started a landscaping business with her husband, and they already have customers. Rodgers is looking to make her landscaping business blossom. She knows that if they don’t grow roots quickly, their business might not survive.
Dancing is her passion, but a foot injury Jessica Northey suffered while in the Army has kept her from pursuing it as a performer. Still, she is determined to share her love for dancing with those around her. Her dream is to open a studio in Dallas where she will teach the art to future generations. The performance cannot begin until she finds a stage, but Northey knows she will need the right tools before she can open the curtain.
Serving in the Army gave Amarylis Lopez the opportunity to break away from the traditional standards expected of women in Puerto Rico and to travel the world. Plus, to her surprise, many of her friends and family have trusted her with managing their investments. The light bulb moment came the day her grandparents handed her their retirement check of nearly half a million dollars and said, “Here, we know you will do good for us.” Starting her own consulting firm would be the investment of a lifetime, but Lopez wonders if she has all the information she needs for a good return.
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), hosted by Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, is designed to give veterans wounded in service since 2001 like Rodgers, Northey, and Lopez, a foothold in the market, providing the tools they need and teaching the skills required to make informed business decisions.
From August 15-23, participants attended classes, visited successful businesses of other entrepreneurs, and learned from some of Mays’ most knowledgeable professors and other distinguished faculty at Texas A&M. They were challenged, inspired, and given the knowledge they need for success in business.
At Saturday night’s opening dinner, the EBV participants were given their first taste of one of Texas A&M’s greatest resources: its network. Before the first course had been served, the veterans were making connections with several distinguished guests and alumni. “It gives me goose bumps,” says Northey when she was introduced to the Aggie network. Several of the veterans were astonished to learn how far the Aggie network extends. It soon became apparent that they would not be on their own when it came time to open their business doors.
When one dedicates one’s life to the service and protection of others, sacrifice comes with the job description. At this opening ceremony of their on-campus intensive training week, each soldier’s eyes shone with the weight and honor of such service. Entrepreneurship also involves a great amount of sacrifice, as well as innovation. Rodgers hungers to pursue photography full-time, but she has four children, ages thirteen to two. “I know other mothers who do [photography] full-time, and they barely get by. I want something a little more stable for my children.” But she has integrated her photography into the landscaping business by shooting the photos for her marketing materials. She has already learned how innovation can be a valuable tool for entrepreneurs, and she is eager to learn more about how to combine what she loves doing with making a living.
Though her company caters to a shrinking upper-middle class, Rodgers has weighed the risks and has come to this conclusion: “It’s true that people are cutting back, but they are buying. Now, they may buy a $7,000 pool instead of a $10,000 pool, but they are still buying.” The ability to make an informed business decision like that is a skill that many of the participants looked forward to learning from the EBV program. For participants like Lopez, who already possess an eye for investment, EBV is an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of making such decisions.
All 14 of the EBV participants desire one essential thing to come out of their ventures: the means with which to help other wounded warriors. These veterans want to build their businesses so that they have the opportunity to support fellow veterans. Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell, a wounded Marine and the guest speaker at the dinner, put it this way: “Look at the whole picture, or you might miss the meaning.” He told the EBV participants that the most important things are to trust yourself, even when you make a mistake, and to never forget your comrades in arms. Keeping the same attitude while in the work field as on the battlefield is essential to entrepreneurial success: when you take a hit, get right back up and keep going.
EBV concludes and the adventure begins
Frank Shaw is a Louisiana man. He graduated from Tulane University, has a thick New Orleans accent, and an irrevocable love of Cajun cuisine. Shaw is also a military man: he retired from the U.S. military after serving several years in combat overseas. He was called back into service shortly after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were declared, and he lost everything back home the day Hurricane Katrina filled his house with 11 feet of water. Now a resident of Plano, Texas, Shaw laments that the shrimp there is often imported frozen, so he makes several trips to Louisiana each year to bring back fresh-caught shrimp in large quantities.
While stationed in England, Shaw earned his MBA from Cambridge University, and he mentions nonchalantly that his dissertation for his doctoral thesis will likely be approved in November this year. “This is for me. I’m doing this for me,” says Shaw, as he talks about the ring he has commissioned in recognition of his PhD. Two words describe that ring. “Super jumbo,” he grins, making an OK sign with his fingers to indicate the stone in the center of his ring will be roughly the size of a cue ball. “They had to make a special mold for me, and they’re calling it the “Super Jumbo’ size.” For Shaw, this ring is the tangible reminder of his academic achievements, and the large stone depicts the intensity of his hard work.
At the closing ceremonies, the evening’s atmosphere was celebratory. Though eager to begin implementing their business plans, these veterans reluctantly prepared to part. “Coming here, to Texas A&M,” said Shaw, “I had preconceived notions about what this school was going to be like. But ya’ll blew me away.”
For more information
- Interested in making a financial contribution to the 2010 Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans? Contact Dick Lester at (979) 862-7091 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- For more information about the program, or to find out how you can apply for next year’s EBV, visit mays.tamu.edu/ebv.
- To view more pictures from this year’s program, visit the 2009 EBV photo gallery.