Sixteen veteran entrepreneurs from across several states spent hours last week studying and learning the ins and outs of launching their new business endeavors through Texas A&M University’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) program. After presenting their business plans to their peers and esteemed mentors, the participants each went home excited to begin their personal and professional passions, taking along with them the wisdom, advice and much-appreciated guidance shared with them over the eight-day residency.

In its ninth year to be hosted by Mays Business School’s Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE), the 2016 EBV program once again served veterans with a military service-linked disability who have started or are interested in starting their own business. The national EBV program was launched in 2007 by the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, and in 2008, added Texas A&M University to a consortium that now includes 10 additional universities across the nation. Each university in the consortia makes a strong commitment to support this nation’s veterans and help to guide them down the path of starting and maintaining a successful business venture.

At Texas A&M, the EBV week is filled with expert lectures, one-on-one mentoring from volunteer entrepreneurs, access to tremendous resources, a lot of food and a full dose of the Spirit of Aggieland.

Opening ceremonies introduce class members

The 16 passionate graduates first revealed their ideas at opening ceremonies on the evening of July 16. As the residency week progressed, their business proposals became concrete, ranging from photography and real estate to fitness training and IT consulting.

Casey Tuohy, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, expressed his attachment toward his dog, who is considered a member of the family. This relationship led him to his idea of opening a pet service business including everything from grooming, boarding and daycare to transportation to and from appointments.

After his training and experience in the military, participant Erick Findley realized he wanted to continue working with firearms but wanted to also create a training program for those ready to learn the knowledge he has to offer. Starting his business in San Antonio, he is interested in teaching others the aspects of sharp shooting and safety as well as providing a facility for consumers to practice in a controlled environment.

Participant James Cole flew in from Oklahoma ready to pursue a challenge. The former Marine held the attention of many when he talked about his passion for the homeless. At the bootcamp, Cole worked on perfecting his business plan for a homeless care center that would provide temporary housing, resume building and “help them find jobs, making them an asset to society rather than a liability.”

Opening ceremonies started in the Presidential Lounge at Kyle Field and featured comments from Brandon Bunch, a graduate from the EBV class of 2013 and this year’s recipient of the Robin ’76 and Bob Starnes ’72 EBV Outstanding Alumni award. Before the participants began their residency program for the week, Bunch encouraged the EBV 2016 participants to “complete one task each day that will make your company better today, and your life easier tomorrow.” He said, “Be passionate and have fun, because the rest, you can learn.”

A week of revelations

Throughout the week, each day was dedicated to a specific business aspect, starting with marketing and finishing off with management and leadership. On Saturday, July 23, the participants presented their final pitches to classmates and received candid feedback from mentors.

After a tour of the George Bush Presidential Library, a closing ceremony and dinner was held in the Annenberg Conference Center with remarks from Mays Business School Dean Dr. Eli Jones. “At Mays, our vision includes advancing the world’s prosperity,” he said. “As entrepreneurs, by taking the next step, you are part of the Aggie family, and our resources are available to you to impact the world by serving the greater good.”

“This experience has been life changing. I do believe I will be successful and I know it will be something rewarding and fulfilling, and I owe all of that to EBV,” EBV participant Lisa Chatman said just before her final presentation of an idea to launch a skilled nursing care facility. “It’s like an MBA program on steroids, with application, not just textbooks. I feel honored and this is really a blessing.”

Stacy Overby, an Army veteran and Aggie former student who was in the Corps of Cadets, added: “I’m basically in awe that for seven solid days, I’ve had a brain trust surrounding me and the other 15 veterans because they [mentors and faculty] are teaching us all they know to make us successful. It’s been an incredible ride, and now all I want is to start my business.”

Continued connections

After completion of the EBV program, the graduates have numerous resources available to continue to help in the success and maintenance of their business ventures. Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families will provide additional mentoring, technical support, financial and legal services, and website design.

“Our entrepreneurship center and its entire staff is incredibly humbled and honored that we have the opportunity to serve those who have served us before,” said CNVE Executive Director Richard Lester. “I can also attest that this was one of the best EBV classes we have ever had, coupled with excellent participation from our faculty, mentors and sponsors. EBV 2016 was a spectacular success in all respects.”