“After six months learning infantry combat, tactics, weapons, communications, martial arts, and leadership. I was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment. We had to be prepared for deployment anywhere on earth within 48 hours, and then sustain ourselves for full combat ops for 30 days before relief. The battalion had just returned from ops in Grenada and Beirut, learning lessons that refocused Marine Corps doctrine on low intensity conflicts. So we had to train for warfare everywhere. That took us from the Army’s special forces jungle operations training center in Panama to Hokkaido, Japan for cross-training in Arctic warfare; from simulated towns for urban warfare to the Mohave Desert. During downtime: inspections, close order drill, and lots of other silly stuff – all meant to teach discipline and attention to detail.”
Attitude. Discipline. Leadership. Communication. And the agility to handle whatever’s thrown at you. That’s what Mike learned. And, as CEO of New Market Translations, he has indeed carried those lessons into a highly successful business career.
I’m telling you this not to glorify Mike (though I certainly do admire him). My point is this: we’ve invested to train millions of Americans this well. After they leave military service, with a little help, many would make superb entrepreneurs – as formidable growing America as protecting it.
For entrepreneurs, attitude, discipline, leadership, communication, and agility are huge, but they aren’t everything. “Vetrepreneurs” still need the right business skills and support systems. At Veterans Launching Ventures (VLV), we’re learning how to provide those.
One key lesson: personal mentoring is invaluable, and the best mentor is a fellow vet who’s succeeded in business. When veterans join VLV, we assign a mentor who’ll guide and support them throughout, even beyond “graduation.” Mike Marsan is one of our top mentors.
We recently partnered him with another exceptional American veteran: Beth Inglis. A ten-year U.S. Air Force veteran, Inglis started 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.
Inglis brings all the focus and agility we’ve been talking about. Says Mike, “Beth faces challenges pragmatically: She just sees them as a part of life that requires planning and adaptation to overcome. I think being a veteran helps one stay calm in tough situations, so you think clearly, when others might panic and make poor decisions.”
Marsan and VLV have helped Inglis build specific skills she didn’t have – including skills associated with building a supply chain and managing a virtual business.
Successful mentoring begins with trust. Shared military experience facilitates that. “As a ‘veteran’ mentor,” says Marsan, “there’s automatic trust between us. Beth knows she can open up, share concerns, and talk about weaknesses – so I can help her without fear of judgment.”
VLV combines mentoring with ten weeks of flexible online education and in-person instruction. It culminates in a day-long workshop where vets work with faculty and business owners to refine their plans and present them to experts – including potential funders. Afterwards, mentors keep providing advice for ten more months, helping vetrepreneurs solve problems and grow their businesses.
In recent years, VLV has itself grown and evolved. This fall, we’re going nationwide. If you know a vet who could benefit – or if you are one – we invite you to find out more. Spaces are limited, but participation is free: visit www.fdu.edu/veterans for the details.
James Barrood leads Fairleigh Dickinson’s nationally recognized Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship which helps entrepreneurs and innovators succeed.