Disabled vets turn to FSU College of Business “bootcamp”

Florida State University’s College of Business is bringing the national Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities to Tallahassee. The program, which is free of charge, serves soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines disabled as a result of their service supporting operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom by opening doors to entrepreneurship and small business ownership.

“It makes perfect sense that FSU host such a program,” said Randy Blass, FSU faculty member and bootcamp program director. “We have a first-rate entrepreneurship program here in the College of Business.”

FSU has enrolled 15 veterans in the free boot camp, and they are scheduled to be on campus June 8-16.

Syracuse University launched the initial bootcamp last year. Now business schools at three universities—FSU, Texas A&M University and UCLA—are partnering with Syracuse to replicate the program’s success nationwide. Syracuse enrolled 20 veterans with disabilities resulting from military service in Iraq and Afghanistan in its first camp.

A graduate of last year’s bootcamp at Syracuse, John Raftery, 28, who lives in Waxahachie, Texas, credits the program for preparing him for his venture as owner of Patriot Material Handing Inc., in Midlothian, which sells material handling and storage equipment and industrial supplies.

The EBV program brings together world-class faculty, entrepreneurs, disability experts and business professionals to train veterans in small business ownership. The training includes online study, a nine-day residency at FSU and 12 months of ongoing support and mentorship from faculty experts. Students engage in experimental workshops to write business plans, raise capital, attract customers, and develop a marketing strategy that is most effective for their business model.

The number of veterans disabled while serving in the armed forces of the United States continues to increase. American troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan in support of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom experienced their most violent year yet in 2007. The number of U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines wounded now exceeds 40,000.

“Given the sheer number of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with disabilities, our individual contribution may be a small one, but our vision for the program is for it to spread to other universities across the nation,” Blass said. “We hope to inspire them to follow our lead.”

Caryn L. Beck-Dudley, dean of FSU’s College of Business, said FSU is proud to be a part of the national endeavor.

“Starting over can be difficult,” Beck-Dudley said. “Equipping veterans with invaluable skills needed to succeed in starting and owning a business will go a long way in not only transforming lives but also rebooting the economy.”

The average age of these veterans, men and women, is 25. Throughout American history, entrepreneurship has been a means for veterans to make a way for themselves and their families, and to re-engage the economic engine of their communities and ultimately the nation, Blass said. Business ownership offers veterans the opportunity to “own their futures” while also offering the flexibility to accommodate the unique challenges associated with a service-connected disability.

According to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News, John Raftery, 28, “read about the boot camp online and thought it might offer the fresh start he and his wife were looking for when they moved to Texas after he got out of the Marine Corps in 2003.

“Mr. Raftery served in the invasion of Iraq as a corporal. ‘Our unit basically took Route 7 all the way to Baghdad, cleared towns and provided suppressive support for the army to move straight into the capital.’

“He returned to the States with impaired hearing and chronic pain in his knees. Yet he considers himself lucky. ‘There are a lot of men and women serving their country who have sacrificed more than me.'”

“Entrepreneur boot camp provided him a springboard into business, says Mr. Raftery, who was making about $32,000 at a health care company in Dallas before going out on his own. ‘It gave me the confidence and a set of tools to move forward.'”

“His 5-month-old business isn’t profitable yet. But it’s self-sustaining, with four employees and projected sales of about $500,000 this year,” the article concludes.

Despite working 60 to 80 hours a week, “‘I’m having a great time. It’s very freeing,'” Raftery says of business ownership.