Back in civilian life, the best way for many veterans to keep serving is to build new businesses. They bring plenty to the table – maturity, discipline, skills. But, as entrepreneurs, they face challenges their service may not have prepared them for.
That’s where mentoring comes in: mentoring by fellow vets who know what it’s like, and have built outstanding business careers of their own. We’d like you to introduce you to two veterans growing great businesses, the mentors helping them, and the program that brought them together: Veterans Launching Ventures (VLV) at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship.
Beth Inglis, a ten-year U.S. Air Force veteran, started her career at the Academy, and served on active duty from 2002-2006. Still a reservist, she’s partnered with her sisters to market a distinctly “civilian’ form of protective equipment. Their firm, Knotty Daughters, crafts bright, beautiful aprons from tough kitchen towels: aprons strong enough for daily use, with extra-long ties that can be knotted back or front for a perfect fit.
It’s a great product idea, but even with her MBA, transforming “idea” into profitable business isn’t easy. Enter mentor Michael Marsan – CEO of New Market Translations, former Director of Global Operations for Bowne, U.S. Marines 1983-1989, U.S. Army Reserves 1990-1996. Marsan guided Inglis through the VLV program, to a successful business plan presentation last December. Since her “graduation,” they’ve stayed in touch – giving her an expert resource on issues ranging from marketing to distribution.
Claudel Robert, an 8-year U.S. Army veteran with an M.S. in Information Systems, owns Scan Arc Solutions, a company that delivers integrated document management and related services for improving processes and reducing costs.
Robert’s services give customers confidence that they’re in control and can use information for a competitive advantage. His VLV mentor, retired Major Robert Elton (USAR), does the same for him. As President/Founder of Cameo Technology Management, Elton specializes in working with small business leaders. He’s also held senior positions in areas ranging from strategic planning to project management, operations to process development.
Says Elton, “Veterans who go to work for themselves understand responsibility and deadlines, and can see the job through from start to finish. Some are used to taking directions from others, but Claudel is a self-starter. He often uses me as a sounding board on what he is already planning to do. As veterans, there’s a ready made bond between us – a real advantage.”
Personal mentoring is central to VLV, but there’s much more to the program. Now open to aspiring and current “vetrepreneurs” nationwide, VLV integrates 10 weeks of flexible online education and in-person instruction. It culminates in a day-long workshop where veterans work with faculty and experienced business owners to refine their plans and present them to experts – including funders. Afterwards, mentors keep providing advice for ten more months.
VLV is helping more and more veterans unleash their entrepreneurial potential and at the same time, build stronger local communities and a more robust economy. Who’ll be next? Maybe you, or a veteran you know. VLV is a free program thanks to corporate sponsorships and we are now recruiting new participants. Learn more at www.fdu.edu/veterans.
James Barrood leads Fairleigh Dickinson’s nationally recognized Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship which helps entrepreneurs and innovators succeed.