BOOTS TO BUSINESS

War is hell … and for some veterans, so is civilian life. When disabled veterans finally make their way back home from a tour of duty, it can be hard for them to feel like they truly belong in their community, much less in the workplace. Many feel disconnected from and valueless in their roles as professionals, despite a 2012 study by the Center for New American Security in which 87 individuals from 69 different companies declared veterans bring excellent leadership skills, character, discipline and other admirable traits to their work.

So if employers think hiring vets is a smart business move, how can they get the veterans to see their own true professional value?
Enter the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, known as the EBV National Program. Founded in 2007 at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management, the EBV program offers the services of higher education institutions to post-9/11 disabled veterans. The program teaches entrepreneurship and business management skills to its students, who, in turn, walk away with the knowledge and ability to start their own businesses and get involved in their communities — and now it’s right here in Columbia at the University of Missouri.

Although EBV’s home base is in Syracuse, the program can also be found on nine other university campuses across the country: Florida State University; UCLA; Texas A&M University; the University of Connecticut; Purdue University; Louisiana State University; Cornell University; Saint Joseph’s University; and the newest member, the University of Missouri. MU joined the consortium in October through a community effort among the employees of Veterans United Home Loans, the Mizzou Veterans Center, the MU School of Law Entrepreneurship Center and the Small Business & Technology Development Center.

“They worked with us to get our application going to Syracuse because the EBV Consortium has to have a unanimous vote to accept new members; they don’t go out and recruit new members,” says program director Greg Bier, an associate teaching professor at MU’s Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business. Although the process of becoming an EBV Consortium school is tough, Bier says he knew that MU had the pieces necessary to make a compelling argument for itself: an excellent veterans center on campus, a pre-existing entrepreneurship program in the college of business, the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital and an all-around “veteran-oriented campus.” Add in MU’s heartland location (most of the other schools are located on or near one of America’s coasts), and the campus became an obvious addition to the group.
“At Veterans United, veterans are their customers, and Mizzou is good at entrepreneurship,” Bier says. “Once we put those two things together, the EBV program was a natural fit.”

The first class of EBV students will come to the MU campus in June. Before they arrive in Columbia, though, students must complete the first of three phases in the program — a 30-day online course that teaches basic entrepreneurship skills and the language of business.
After students complete the remote online stage, participating veterans will begin meeting on the MU campus for a nine-day residency June 4–12, where they will learn from more than 30 accomplished entrepreneurs from all over the country.
“This is where the students really get their inspiration,” Bier says. “They get to meet guest speakers and mentors and get to really drill down into the business that they’re interested in.”

The second phase ends with a pitch competition in which students present their business ideas to their teachers and guest speakers. Participants will then be ready to go out into the community and bring their businesses to life in the program’s third phase, a 12-month period of guidance and mentorship through the EBV Technical Assistance Program.

“Basically, the EBV consortium maintains contact with those disabled vets to make sure they get the support they need,” Bier says. “We’ll make sure they’ve got the mentors in place and continue to answer questions about cash flow or payroll or human resource-type issues.”

Veterans interested in participating in the program undergo a rigorous application process to join, filling out an online application and undergoing a phone interview in a competition for one of the 15 to 25 spots each consortium school offers every year, Bier says.

The application process is tough, but oh, so worth it. The EBV program is entirely free: MU has raised the money it needs to cover the costs for the veterans who enroll in its program. Bier credits the employees of Veterans United and the Veterans United Foundation for their support.

“This has really been a community-wide effort that Mizzou’s just kind of been the champion for,” he says. “There are a lot of stakeholders involved; it’s not just the college of business putting on the program. We can’t do this alone.”

It’s hard to say how many lives the EBV program will touch, but according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 10 percent of Missouri residents age 18 or older are veterans. About 30 percent of the nation’s post-9/11 veterans report having a service-connected disability.

“There’s such a very large pool of post-9/11 vets with disabilities that we want to make sure that they’ve got the economic opportunity when they leave the service,” Bier says.

As he moves forward as the director of the new program, Bier — a combat veteran from Desert Shield/Desert Storm who served in the Army from 1986 to 1995 — says he hopes that disabled post-9/11 vets will find meaning and independence in their work as entrepreneurs.

“As a veteran myself, I just want these students, these disabled vets, to have some way to merge back into their communities as a business owner,” he says. “A lot of them with disabilities just don’t feel as though they fit a larger organization. We want to make sure they understand that they can do this on their own. They can start a business.”

Find Out More
Learn more about the EBV at www.business.missouri.edu/centers-institutes/EBV or contact Greg Bier at 573-882-9026, email bierg@missouri.edu. Details about the Institute for Veterans and Military Families are at www.vets.syr.edu.

Veterans In Business
10% of all U.S. small businesses are veteran-owned
13% of veterans are self-employed
50% of post-World War II veterans have launched business ventures
70% of EBV graduates have started their own business
92% of EBV graduates who have launched a venture are still in business

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