The 23 veterans who looked a little unsure when they started their weeklong Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) at Mays Business School were smiling and confident six days and dozens of hours later. After presenting business plans and answering questions from a panel of EBV graduates, the 2012 class members laughed together and looked eager to start their business ventures.

The EBV offers training in entrepreneurship and small business management to post-9/11 veterans with disabilities resulting from their service to our country. The EBV at Texas A&M is a significant collaboration between the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE) and the Center for Executive Development at Mays. 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.

The Texas A&M Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Class of 2012
The Texas A&M Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Class of 2012 (view more photos)

Pamela Curry, the EBV program coordinator and unofficial “mom” to each class that comes through Texas A&M, commented on the friendships that formed throughout the program. “The first night, I prayed that the right people would be brought together,” she recalled during the commencement ceremony. “God put a magnificent puzzle together, putting these people together. Each group that comes through this place, I think it can’t get any better — and then it does.”

Class member John Signorino called the program “a one-week MBA course on steroids,” and remarked on how “professionally and smoothly” it was presented. “You brought people from all around the country and all walks of life and executed the whole thing beautifully so that it impacted every one of us. We really appreciate it.”

At Texas A&M, ranked 7th nationally by the Military Times Edge for being a “veteran-friendly” campus, information shared by top faculty members and seasoned business owners provided a baseline of knowledge for participants.

This year’s class members hailed from around Texas, Georgia, Louisiana and Florida. Their projects ranged from the technical to the eccentric to the touchy-feely, and everything in between. Pam Tilley, creator of a plush toy shaped like a soldier’s helmet that will generate funds for veterans, dreams of selling them in H-E-B stores. Douglas Frederick of El Paso hopes to move to Georgia and emulate the renovation reality show “Property Brothers.” Liza Matos is working to export computers to Median, Colombia.

Cornelius Nash, a graduate from the EBV’s 2010 class, returned from Tombstone, Ariz., to serve on a panel to give advice and answer questions. While he was attending his class in 2010, the Marines chose his company as a subject matter expert on improvised explosive devices. “The things I learned in EBV and the mentors I met continue to help me to this day.” His wife attended the EBV family program at Florida State.

FIVE YEARS AND 500 GRADUATES LATER

Statistics from the national EBV program:

  • 69 percent have launched a new venture since attending EBV
  • 65 percent of the ventures remain operational
  • 13 percent went back to school instead of starting their ventures
  • 5 percent went to work for someone else
  • 16 percent are still in the planning stage
  • 91 percent use the EBV Technical Assistance Program

Rep. Bill Flores ’76 spoke to the veterans at the opening dinner. Gen. Hal M. Hornburg  ’68, a four-star U.S. Air Force general and commander, was the keynote speaker at the commencement ceremony. He told the graduates in their closing ceremony that life is “all about balance,” then he thanked them for their service — “not for what you have done, but for what you will do. Be a beacon in your communities, be a stalwart in the PTO meetings and the civic organizations. Take the things you’ve learned here and use it to make this a better place.”

ABOUT THE EBV CONSORTIUM

The EBV Consortium was formed in 2008 as a national educational initiative designed to help veterans with disabilities to make the transition to self-employment, develop professional networks and ultimately start and grow sustainable businesses. In addition to Texas A&M, the EBV Consortium is composed of the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, the College of Business at The Florida State University, the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, the College of Business at the University of Connecticut, the E. J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University and the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.