Families of military veterans head to FSU for entrepreneurship ‘boot camp’

In mid-April last year, Patricia Sands was headed to Florida State University with her newly redesigned and patented product – a spill resistant urinal for bedridden men – with hopes of garnering insights on how to improve her innovation and then bring it to market. She was one of 14 participants attending FSU’s first Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans’ Families (EBV-F). This year, she returns to FSU as a guest entrepreneur and the keynote speaker at the 2013 boot camp’s graduation ceremony. The 2013 EBV-F kicks off Tuesday, Feb. 19, with a welcome reception and runs through Wednesday, Feb. 27.

Sponsored by the Center for Veteran Outreach in FSU’s College of Business, the EBV-F program, which this year is hosting 15 participants, is available to caregivers of veterans who have suffered disabilities related to their post-9/11 military service, survivors of those who lost their lives as well as spouses of active duty military. It is an offshoot of FSU’s successful Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) program, which was launched at Florida State in 2008.

The program integrates training in small-business management with caregiver and family issues, positioning the family member to launch and grow a small business in a way that is complementary or enhancing to other family responsibilities.

Participants recently completed the three-week online portion of the program to prepare for the upcoming group session in Tallahassee, where they will be immersed in the basics of entrepreneurship. Florida State and Syracuse University are the only two universities in the nation that offer the program for veterans’ families.

For Sands, a military widow, EBV-F was a turning point for her business, PC, Sands, LLC, and her product, Number One, which she developed after deciding other male urinal products for those confined to bed were inferior when she was caring for her father who had suffered a stroke.

“The rapid succession of topics, materials and the professionals who presented made me see my business from a new prospective,” Sands said. “I learned to determine a well-thought-out strategy by reviewing each aspect of my business. It brought focus to its organization and the practical ways to run it. I’m excited about how things are shaping up for my product and the possibilities ahead for success.”

After returning home to Virginia following nine days of intensive instruction at the EBV-F in Tallahassee, Sands was able to turn to the professionals she met at the EBV-F to make connections with people who are helping her navigate the complex route from idea to the marketplace, including the associate director of the High-Performance Materials Institute at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, who developed a product prototype that led to the redesign of her original prototype, and a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. connection who has extended an open-ended invitation for Sands to make a sales pitch at the store’s Arkansas headquarters, a coup that could lead to the store carrying Number One nationwide.

“Patty has been particularly good about taking advantage of all of the follow up support FSU offers,” said Dr. Randy Blass, director of FSU’s EBV and EBV-F programs, and an U.S. Air Force veteran. “That is exactly what we hope other participants will do because the EBV faculty is available beyond the nine days they are on FSU’s campus.”

Sands said she is hopeful her experience will inspire the new class of EBV-F participants. “Their time at FSU can set the foundation for a totally new life,” she said. “Top people in their fields have committed their time and talents to our success, and I am hopeful each participant will commit themselves to this program and to success as well.”


The EBV-F opening ceremony will be held from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Residence Inn’s University Ballroom (Gaines Street) and classes will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. Monday through Tuesday at the Turnbull Conference Center. Venture pitches will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Residence Inn and the closing ceremony will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the FSU University Center Club.