Georgia’s military veterans are pounding out clever entrepreneurial ideas to launch their own…
Georgia (Aug 13, 2014) —
Georgia’s military veterans are pounding out clever entrepreneurial ideas to launch their own small businesses — from a former military cook who wants to open his own restaurant, to a medical supply veteran who wants to provide behavioral health resources to teens, to a 20-year veteran who wants to open a small-town movie theater.
All of them looked to Kennesaw State’s newest initiative, Georgia Advancing Veterans Education (GAVE), for hands-on help in turning their entrepreneurial dreams into reality.
This three-month, no-cost program, developed by the Michael J. Coles College of Business, provides participants with small business expertise from KSU faculty, small business owners and successful entrepreneurs in the metro Atlanta region through workshops, strategy presentation skills and discussions.
GAVE’s first class of 17 military veterans, ranging in ages from 26 to 60 and spanning all ranks and branches of the military, are aspiring entrepreneurs who are either in the advanced stages of starting their own businesses or are interested in creating them. Open only to U.S. military veterans living in Georgia, the GAVE initiative kicked off in early 2014 and includes a weekend “enlistment,” a weeklong “boot camp,” and a daylong “discharge,” where participants present their final business plans to a panel of potential investors.
A COMPETITIVE EDGE
GAVE participants faced a panel of angel investors who provided critical feedback on their business plans but who were not required to provide any funding.
“We wanted the veterans to introduce and explain their business plan as if they were presenting it to banks, investors or potential partners,” said Sheb True, director of the GAVE initiative and professor of marketing and professional sales in the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State. GAVE participants worked for three months to develop and fine-tune their business plans and polish their presentations.
Erica Parks, a former U.S. Army medical logistics sergeant, looked forward to sharing her business plan with potential investors since the day she applied to the GAVE initiative.
Parks came to the GAVE initiative with a strong business idea — to provide teens and parents with resources to prevent and manage behavioral and mental health crises — but she knew she needed help in moving her business plan forward.
“I hope to gain some wisdom from the business faculty,” said Parks, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Kennesaw State. “I find great value in being in this program. The opportunity is outstanding
Parks spent nine months in Afghanistan in 2003, working in what she described as a MASH unit, providing medical supplies and triage to injured soldiers. Having witnessed the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on Army soldiers, she worked in behavioral health after she left the military.
“Military veterans have the perfect skill set,” said Drew Tonsmeire, director of the Small Business Development Center at Kennesaw State. “They have already proven their ability to commit to something and have great dedication. The harder part of launching a new business is that there are no rule books or manuals, like in the military, telling them how to do it.”
Tonsmeire worked with the GAVE participants during their initial “enlistment,” teaching them how to write a business plan and understand the importance of writing it. New business owners have to think through decisions before they occur, he explained.
Rodney Chatman, who recently retired after 20 years in the Army, discovered that his biggest hurdle in opening a small-town movie theater will be purchasing the technology to show movies and having the Wi-Fi support in place. Old reel-to-reel projectors no longer support today’s movie distribution, which are digital downloads to a projector’s hard drive, Chatman explained.
AMONG THE ELITE
While this is the first veteran-focused program aimed specifically at entrepreneurs for Coles College, Kennesaw State has long been a leader in providing services to military service members and veterans.
In 2010, Kennesaw State opened its Veterans Resource Center, a one-stop shop for veterans who wish to start or continue their college education. Part of Student Success Services, the center counsels veterans with processing applications for Veterans Affairs educational benefits and assists them with enrollment.
In 2013, the University was named a “Military Friendly School” for the third consecutive year by G.I. Jobs magazine. The honor recognizes the top 15 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools nationwide that are doing the most to embrace America’s military service members and veterans as students
Military Times magazine named Kennesaw State among 120 colleges and universities nationwide as a top school for veterans in their “Best for Vets: Colleges 2014” ranking. The distinction recognizes and rewards higher education institutions for their commitment to providing opportunities to America’s veterans.
A FOCUS ON STRENGTHS
“No other program in the state offers this type of business training for military veterans who are entrepreneurs, or aspiring to be entrepreneurs,” said True. “Teaching and cultivating entrepreneurship is one of Coles’ biggest strengths.”
“We wanted to provide a way to assist Georgia military veterans who gave service to their country,” said True. “The GAVE initiative is our way to give back to them for their dedication.”
He also said that faculty with expertise in small business and entrepreneurism stepped up to volunteer their time for the program.
The GAVE initiative is composed of two programs, including the Veterans Entrepreneurship Training (VET) and a Veterans Sales Training (VST) program, which will work with the Professional Sales Center in the Coles College to provide advanced sales training to military veterans later this fall.
-- Tiffany Capuano
A SUPPORT CHALLENGE
Coles College advisory board member Doug Shore, and his wife Robin, helped pave the way for the GAVE initiative’s success. Without financial backing, the program may not have been possible.
Shore first heard about the initiative after Kathy Schwaig, dean of the Coles College, suggested a new program that needed financial support. It was an initiative that appealed to the Shores because it hit on two things close to their hearts: veterans and entrepreneurship.
“Both Robin and I grew up in families where our parents were entrepreneurial,” Doug Shore said. “Robin was especially taken by the fact that this program would work with veterans because her dad was a World War II vet. He came home and was able to use the GI bill to learn tool and die making, and eventually owned his own tool and die shop that was very successful.”
The couple created a match program to garner additional donations from other advisory board members, some who are military veterans. The Shores’ challenge raised more than $20,000 for the GAVE initiative.
-- Paula Stanton