Business Boot Camp Gives Veterans a New Start

Feb 29, 2012

A version of this story aired on NPR's "All Things Considered" on February 29, 2012

A few months ago, WNPR reported on a unique training program for veterans at the University of Connecticut. A consortium of business schools run The Entreprenuership Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, which teaches veterans to be their own boss.

As part of our Coming Home project, WNPR's Lucy Nalpathanchil follows up with an EBV grad who is now a small business-owner.

25-year-old Edward Young spends a lot of time in his Ford Truck. It's a F350 dually that tows an enclosed 2-car trailer. Young lives in Connecticut and runs an auto transport business that takes him all over the country to pick up and drop off vehicles.

This delivery in a suburb outside Hartford is a jaw dropper, he's unloading a 1989 black Rolls Royce. "It's a boat! Really, it's probably a good 19 feet long. Black and leather I think it's even got heated seats. It's a beautiful car, practically brand new."

Just four years ago Young was in Iraq driving convoys as a Navy Seabee. After a year deployment he came home and struggled with finding work and drinking too much. He had trouble connecting with his family and became suicidal. Young ended up getting counseling for PTSD at the local VA hospital. He says the long distance drives help him cope.

"You know it's easier just to get away. It seems like I'm avoiding life home but being on the road is like being deployed, it's kind of the same thing. Keeping busy."

After leaving the service, Young thought about running his own business. And after attending a veterans' forum at a local community college last year, he learned he could actually do it. He applied for and was accepted into the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities at the University of Connecticut.

Mike Haynie, a former Air Force officer and Professor of Entreprenuership at Syracuse came up with the idea, known as EBV, in 2007. Today, Syracuse, UConn and six other business schools run the free training program that helps veterans learn everything from business and marketing plans, to creating their own websites and logos. All free of charge.

Haynie says veterans are drawn to the intensity of the 2 month program and recalls the story of one particular EBV grad. "He said as a Marine Infantry officer, I learned how to make sense of chaos and I learned to make decisions in the face of chaos and really that is what entrepreneurship is all about."

Since 2008, more than 400 veterans have completed EBV. Nearly 70 percent of them have launched a business. Haynie says a large alumni network is one of the keys to their success. "I have a very very long list of successful alumni in a broad spectrum of industries who have come to us and said if you have a veteran interested in starting a business in real estate, or media or whatever it is. Let me help them, let me mentor them."

Marine, Brian Iglesias is an EBV grad who launched his own film company in 2009. "My mentor was the VP for distribution for Fox Searchlight, you couldn't get any better than that."

Haynie says the wait list for EBV keeps growing. Last year there was room for only 35 percent of the nearly 500 who applied.

Even with EBV's training and connections, Ed Young still struggled to get his business started. He applied to ten different banks before finding one that would give him a loan. And he's just starting to make money. Despite the challenges Young says he's happy being his own boss and now he's going to work on his personal relationships.

"I have problems connecting with people all the time. Especially family members. It just feels like I missed a lot in everyone's life and it's trying to play catch-up."

Young's plan is to keep driving, so he can make enough money to expand. He says he'd like to hire a fellow veteran because the camaraderie of military life doesn't end once the service is over.