They came with memories on their minds and dreams in their heart, and they left with solid plans for achieving them. Twenty-three veterans who have served since 9/11 credit an entrepreneurship bootcamp with giving them the boost they needed to make the most of their experiences and ideas.

The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Class of 2011
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Class of 2011
(view more photos from EBV 2011)

Gina Williams thought the personalized candy business she and a “chocoholic” friend started five years ago was cooking along nicely, but she says she learned some lessons at the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) at Mays Business School that will start benefitting her business immediately. “We have established our business, but we want to have the best there is, and I have some tools to do that now,” says Williams, a 24-year veteran of the Air Force who lives south of Houston and operates “Dandy Candy online”. “Our passion is being charitable, so we give a portion of our proceeds to charities. Now I realize we need to learn more about our industry and our own little business, because it changes so quickly. Education is really key.”

The EBV program is designed to help participants learn essential skills that will help them start, grow and successfully manage entrepreneurial ventures. They participate in a three-week online self-study, a nine-day on-campus residency program at Texas A&M and a year of mentorship with a faculty member. The program provides participants not only with the practical skills necessary to make their new venture a success, but also a network of support that will be vital as they launch their ideas.

Joshua P. Kinser, managing partner of San Antonio-based KSV Group, says the ideas discussed in the sessions will help him improve his business. He says the critiques of the business plans were specific and informative, and the mentors added an essential layer of attention.

“I was really impressed with the innovative minds who taught the subjects. Their focus was being innovative; their theme was, “Whatever you do, don’t be bland,'” Kinser explains. “Every facet was presented as a building block to get you to the end, to get you out the door and back to your business with fresh ideas and a broader knowledge base.”

Mays’ EBV program, held Aug. 6-14 on the Texas A&M campus, provides education and training in entrepreneurship and small business management free of cost to military personnel injured in the line of duty since 9/11.

During their week on campus, three of this year’s EBV participants recorded daily video updates.
(see more video blogs)

A new element this year was a roundtable with successful graduates of the EBV program. In the months following the program, the entrepreneurs will get help with creating logos and marketing materials.

The EBV program was introduced in 2007 by the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. Now the program is offered in consortium with Mays, UCLA, Florida State University, Purdue, the University of Connecticut, and Louisiana State University.

At Mays, the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE) hosts the program each year. “We have the opportunity to change lives for men and women who have given so much to us through their service to our country,” says Richard Lester, clinical associate professor and executive director of the CNVE. “It is a great honor and privilege that all of us share who become associated with the EBV program.”

The cost is about $5,000 per participant, but thanks to the generous support of corporate sponsors and private individuals, the veterans are allowed to attend the entire program — including tuition, travel and accommodations — at no cost.

Country performer Michael Peterson kicked off the program at Texas A&M with an inspiring performance. He lauded Mays for supporting the veterans, adding, “It’s not a charity and it’s not a hand-out. We need them. We need their ideas and their work.”

Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, who began his furniture sales empire in Houston 32 years ago, told the entrepreneurs during their graduation ceremony “whatever I’ve done in my life as an entrepreneur, you can do better.”

At the end of the residency week, participants pitched their business plans to a panel of entrepreneurs and industry experts.
At the end of the residency week, participants pitched their business plans to a panel of entrepreneurs and industry experts.
(view more photos from EBV 2011)

He encouraged them to feed opportunities and starve problems. “So many people said we’d never make it with our company but I had a great big unfair advantage, and you’ve got it too: Desire,” McIngvale explains. “The number one ingredient in business success is an unsinkable work ethic and a relentless focus on the customer.”

Kinser and Williams both commented on the program’s final day that they had developed a kinship with their fellow veterans.

“This experience has humbled me more than I ever expected,” Williams says. “I never dreamed there would be people who would be so dedicated to the veterans this way, to make sure we had all we needed to succeed.

“And to learn and serve alongside these other people has been an honor to me. I don’t call them classmates, I call them my entrepreneurship family. I will make sure we stay in touch.”

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