Veterans look to succeed as entrepreneurs
By Stephanie Snyder | Ventura County Star, Calif. | Published: June 2, 2014
VENTURA, Calif. — Making a transition out of the military can be challenging for service members as they look to translate their military skill set into civilian work.
But as increasing resources become available, prospective veterans are more easily connecting leadership and task-oriented characteristics they have as military members with the mindset of an entrepreneur.
A joint collaboration between the Defense Department and the Small Business Association produced a new course, Boots to Business, to give military members the tools they need to become entrepreneurs.
An estimated 1,000 people transition out of the military through Naval Base Ventura County annually, said Kirstin Davy, a transition coordinator for Naval Base Ventura County.
Boots to Business is one of three optional workshops on easing veterans into civilian life, whether it is entrepreneurship, vocational training or higher education.
About 45 local active military members and veterans have participated in Boots to Business since it launched at Naval Base Ventura County in September.
The quarterly two-day workshops are led by Patrick Rodriguez, a Los Angeles-based economic development specialist for the Small Business Administration.
Rodriguez, who served in the Army for eight years, started the recent workshop at the base’s Fleet and Family Support Center in Port Hueneme by telling the class of 10 that moving from being enlisted in the military to being a business owner is not a long leap.
“The majority of folks who are coming out of the service have a lot of discipline, motivation. They’re very task-oriented,” Rodriguez said. “They have a lot of the same skill sets that entrepreneurs have so they’re not really having to climb that hill. They’re at the top of that hill. Now they just kind of have to get over and get their idea in place and get their business plan in place.”
Veterans make up 6 percent of the U.S. population and nearly 14 percent of the country’s small-business owners, Rodriguez said.
“Just being a veteran in that network is tremendous. It’s a really great starting point,” Rodriguez said. “They know that they don’t want to work for anybody else. They’re tired of taking orders from anybody so they have that mentality of doing it themselves, working for themselves.”
The course uses a curriculum developed by the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families and offers an introduction to business development, ownership and planning; the economics of small businesses and startups; an understanding of markets and competitive space; the selection of the correct legal entity; and the use of resources.
Boots to Business participants include active-duty and retired military members, Rodriguez said. Some come in not knowing what they want to do after leaving the military, while others are ready to develop a business plan, he added.
“It’s always a challenge to hit that right note for those folks who are already kind of more sophisticated and know more about business,” Rodriguez said.
Hector Calderon, 40, spent the past 20 years in the Navy, serving two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. For the past three years, he worked as a construction facilities manager at the Port Hueneme base.
But the Oxnard father of three said starting a business has been on his mind for the past decade. Through the Navy, he received his bachelor’s degree in business administration, and he’s one class away from finishing his master’s in business administration.
Calderon, who attended the Boots to Business workshop, said he hopes to launch a security company after he completely separates from the military at the end of July.
“There are so many resources in this country that we can take advantage of,” said Calderon, who moved to the U.S. from Colombia at age 18. “I want to accomplish something that I built, that I constructed.”
Calderon said he chose a security guard business because of the skills he learned in the military and after researching its market growth. But he said he has concerns about obtaining the money to get the business up and running.
“The hardest thing is to get the financial help that you require,” he said. “Not a lot of banks or companies loan on a new business.”
Typically about half of the Boots to Business lessons are led by members of the Ventura County chapter of Score, most of whom have owned or run a business and offer a variety of expertise.
Along with Score, the Small Business Association has a national resource partnership with the Small Business Development Center Network and the Women’s Business Center.
Larry Willett, chairman of the local chapter of Score, said the nonprofit’s involvement in Boots to Business is going well and that he hopes to establish more ongoing opportunities with the base to connect with military members as they continue to build their business.
“The service people that are taking that Boots to Business program at the base are basically personnel looking to be mustered out in the future and thinking about going into business, so, to me, that’s kind of a limited opportunity,” Willett said.
Willett said it would be effective to connect interested military members with regular seminars hosted by the nonprofit that are more in-depth than Boots to Business. Score also provides free business counseling with any of its 63 members, Willett added.
“If they contact us for counseling, that’s really the best way to start,” he said. “Then it’s according to their schedule. ... We work out a time and place to meet, and at that point we’re working one-on-one.”
Some local veterans are taking advantage of Score resources, including a recent all-day small-business seminar in Camarillo.
Ventura resident J.P. Budd retired from the Marine Corps in 2005 after nearly six years of service as a communications officer that included tours in Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Budd is one of 120 franchise owners of Unishippers, a national freight-shipping company that focuses on small to midsize businesses.
“I like the franchise model because it’s a proven business model and you have a support network. You’re not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “Within shipping, even in a down economy, companies are still going to need to ship, and so there’s always going to be a need for it. It’s just when things are slow, they might not be shipping as much.”
Budd said he worried about finding a way to translate his military skills to a civilian job but quickly realized the intangibles he gained from the Marines were invaluable to becoming an entrepreneur.
“There’s a lot of grind to running your business,” he said. “If you have the discipline to get up and do what you need to do on a daily basis and work toward a goal and work with people — whether it’s your vendors, customers or employees — you’ll be successful. A lot of that stuff is kind of driven into you in the military.”