After spending most of an eight-day residency at Mays Business School immersed in the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), 19 veterans returned home ready to roll out their business endeavors. They took with them the encouraging words and training from their mentors, guest speakers and Mays faculty members.
The July 11-18 event was the eighth at Texas A&M University for post-9/11 veterans with service-connected disabilities. It is hosted in partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF), which holds similar programs at seven other universities nationwide. They developed skills needed to launch and maintain successful businesses. The participants received training and mentoring. They also got a taste of life as an Aggie.
Some of the business proposals included bounce house rentals, business coaching, a trucking company and a network to help female veterans find relevant products, apparel and social media sites.
“This is such a great environment for those of us in business,” said Chris Thompson, a former Green Beret who manufactures firearms and conducts firearms training in Bryan. “They understand the challenges veterans face, and they know what new business owners need.”
This year’s event started with an opening ceremony featuring April Ames-Chase, a member of the EBV Class of 2014 and recipient of the 2015 Robin ’76 and Robert Starnes ’72 EBV Outstanding Alumni Award. She urged the participants to never let anyone dissuade them from pursuing their dreams. “If someone says it’s not possible, just tell them thank you and move on,” she said. “Pray, pivot and move forward.” She also advised the participants to utilize all the resources around them and “network, network, network.”
Dick Lester, executive director of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, who spearheads the EBV each year, told the participants: “You’ll never have another time in your life when you’ll do nothing but focus on your business. Soak it up. Use it. Benefit from it.”
On the final day of this year’s program, the EBV participants presented their final business plan pitches and presentations. After a tour and reception at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, they were joined by program mentors, sponsors and guests at closing ceremonies at the Annenberg Conference Center.
The keynote speaker, Retired U.S. Army Master Sgt. Todd Nelson, told stories that captivated his audience. While serving in Afghanistan, Nelson was 10 feet from a suicide bomber. After three years and 40 surgeries — 20 life-saving, 20 reconstructive (while finishing his degree) — he was hired by USAA in San Antonio to help recruit other veterans.
He said he was asked to be an example/inspiration for a consortium of doctors developing and researching new ways to grow skin and extremities. He said he went forward with his recovery rather than live off his pension and disability for three reasons:
- Make a promise and follow a dream
- Set an example for his daughters
- Be a deserving husband
Nelson’s message to EBV participants emphasized the importance of finding the inspiration behind their entrepreneurial ventures. He closed by saying, “You know the how and the what. You need to find the why.”
After the residency phase of the program, the EBV participants have access to numerous resources, coordinated by Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families: mentoring, technical assistance, financing services, legal services and website design. “We want to make sure they keep their momentum after getting this far,” said A.J. Florkowski, EBV national program director for the Institute for Veterans. “We also want to help them raise awareness in their own communities of what they are doing. That will help them build their network once they get back home.”
– Julia Mora ’17 contributed to this story.
ABOUT MAYS BUSINESS SCHOOL
Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,900 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, business, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.