The ventures at this year’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Disabled Veterans (EBV), hosted by Mays Business School’s McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, ranged from network solutions for small businesses to artisan products to novel applications of artificial intelligence. The 21 veterans in this year’s class came from across the United States and represented nearly every branch of the military.
Since 2008, the McFerrin Center has hosted the intensive training program developed to help disabled veterans develop the competencies and skills necessary to create and sustain an entrepreneurial or small business venture.
‘Boot camp’ a fitting name
The term “boot camp” is not used lightly when it comes to EBV. In order to graduate from the program, each participant must complete a 30-day online training program and a nine-day residency hosted at Texas A&M University. During the in-residence portion, the participants were in class from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and worked on their business plans and final presentations every night during mentoring hours. McFerrin Center Executive Director Richard Lester referred to the program experience as akin to “drinking from a firehose.”
The lectures and presentations throughout the week covered topics such as finance and accounting, government contracting, human resources and marketing. The deluge of information caused a visible shift in the veteran’s energy levels throughout the week. Participants bounded into class on Sunday morning full of excitement and by Thursday they shuffled into the classroom, coffee cup in hand.
An Aggie integration
While EBV does consist of a significant amount of hard work, McFerrin Center goes to great lengths to ensure that none of the veterans burn out from information overload. On Tuesday, participants enjoyed a relaxed evening of networking at the Benjamin Knox Wine Gallery. The Southwood 4-H club hosted their annual evening of fellowship with home-cooked Tex-Mex food and a table filled with hand-made desserts on Wednesday. Thursday evening, the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets hosted a dinner at the Sanders Corps Museum and participants met current members of the Corps of Cadets and learned about the history of Texas A&M.
The week-long residency culminated with final presentations and closing ceremonies on July 21. Mentors from the Bryan/College Station community attended final presentations at the Center for Executive Development and provided feedback and final words of encouragement to the veterans. The program officially concluded on Saturday evening with closing ceremonies. There was a distinct celebratory feeling to the event as each veteran was awarded their program diploma. Honored guests such as Nancy Williams of the Cockrell Foundation and Eli Jones, the dean of Mays Business School, were in attendance. The evening was made even more special when Brigadier General Joe E. Ramirez, Jr. ’79, Commandant of the Corps of Cadets, delivered a poignant speech on what it means to be a leader that resonated with the entire room.
After spending the week with the participants and watching them grow as entrepreneurs, it can be hard to say goodbye. However, the journey isn’t over. Being an EBV graduate from Texas A&M means becoming a member of the Aggie family. As each veteran returns home with renewed fervor for their venture they will receive continued support from both the McFerrin Center through mentorship and guidance.