Veterans-turned-entrepreneurs offer advice
By Amy S. Choi
After 13 years in the Marine Corps, Brian Iglesias was ready to embark on a dream career in filmmaking. Prepared to pay his dues, he worked the phones, sent e-mails, and paid visits. But all he ran into were dead ends. "Not too long ago I was leading over 225 Marines in landslide relief operations in the Philippines," he says. But "I had to beg people to let me intern. Only my friends were willing to give me work."
Frustrated, Iglesias decided to start his own company and turned to one of a growing number of programs that help soldiers become entrepreneurs. He enrolled in the intensive 14-month Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (Iglesias has a metal plate fused in his neck), offered for free to service-disabled veterans at Syracuse, Florida State, UCLA, Texas A&M, and Purdue. Started by James M. Haynie, an Air Force vet turned business school professor at Syracuse in 2007, the boot camp includes lessons in business plan development, marketing campaigns, financing, legal issues, and supply chains.
While most employment aid to veterans is focused on traditional job placement, more organizations are offering targeted help to former service people who plan to start a business. Here are a few:
SCORE, for example, has a Veterans Committee in which all counselors are former military personnel. "We can speak the language of the military," says Laurie McCulloch, chair of the committee and recent Army retiree. "A veterans can come in here and say he was a company commander, and we know what that means and how it can transition to civilian life."
The Northeast Veterans Business Resource Center, founded by Louis Celli, a 23-year Army vet, provides everything from financial services and insurance counseling to grant-writing assistance and networking for veterans who own or hope to own a company. It also advocates for veteran business owners.
The Veterans Corp. focuses on helping veterans access capital. The organization, which recently named Jim Mingey as its new chief executive, offers counsel and connects veterans with venture capitalists, microlenders, Patriot Express lenders, and even foundations offering grants. "We're remaking Veterans Corp. into an 'equity desk' for veterans," says Mingey.
GETTING GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS
Some states also offer aid to veteran entrepreneurs. The California Disabled Veteran Business Alliance, for example, aims to assist veterans in scoring government contracts.
Meanwhile, the behemoth Department of Veterans Affairs is also doing its part. Its Center for Veterans Enterprise advises veterans at different stages of their businesses' development and directs them to local resources in their community, such as the regional small business development centers. Once the business is established, the center can register a veteran-owned company on the CVE's vendor information pages at no cost, which could help them win government contracts and subcontracts. The VA itself sets a procurement goal of 10% of its budget for veteran-owned businesses.
For entrepreneurs such as Iglesias, such veteran-focused programs are a godsend-and a true business help. On Feb. 15 he plans to start filming his first documentary with his newly launched company, Veterans Inc. He says: "I guarantee I would have made a lot of bad decisions, and I'd be in a much darker place than I am right now without the support."