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Vets who mean business: Syracuse boot camp teaches entrepreneurship to veterans

By EMMA VALLELUNGA | Syracuse Media Group | Published: July 25, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — Twenty-six veterans from 17 states and all five branches of the U.S. military are breaking out their laptops and notebooks this week for the 12th annual Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans through Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

Founded at SU in 2007, the boot camp is an opportunity for veterans to learn all aspects of starting, building and maintaining a business. Participants attend classes, networking events and presentations with more than 40 accomplished business experts, entrepreneurs and professors locally and around the country.

Director of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Misty Stutsman said the veterans experience a real boot camp session and are enthralled into classes from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. They take classes in the Whitman School of Management on everything from accounting and supply chain management to search engine optimization and social media branding.

Created by Dr. Mike Haynie, Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Innovation at SU, Stutsman said the boo tcamp has grown immensely, spreading to four other schools nationwide in 2010. Today, four more have established programs, including University of Missouri, Louisiana State University, Saint Joseph’s University and Cornell University. The results - a total of nearly 2,000 entrepreneur graduates, nearly 80 percent of them starting their own businesses and 92 percent of them staying in business after boot camp - speak for themselves, and SU handles the administration, marketing and recruiting for the program nationwide.

“It really was the spark that lit this entire thing,” Stutsman said. “This program alone was almost a catalyst to encourage the entire Syracuse University to think even more entrepreneurial.”

After taking 30 days of online courses moderated by SU faculty, the veterans arrived in Syracuse Saturday, July 20, and will conclude their experience with a formal business pitch this Saturday before a panel of experts for professional advice on their proposed business ventures.

When the week is over, veterans can receive continued support and advice for up to a year, or for as long as they see fit, and are also viewed as SU alumni after they graduate.

And in order to prove they mean business, the program completely pays for airfare, lodging and food.

“We really want the only thing they have to worry about is learning, so we remove any other barrier that we can to make sure those connections are made,” Stutsman said.

Thad Hunkins, grew up in the Potsdam area but spent 30 years in the Air Force, flying helicopters and jet trainers in Germany, Japan, Egypt and Canada. When he retired last year, he went back home to his 46-year-old family business NCC Systems Incorporated, a security and protection business based in Northern New York.

Thad Hunkins is one of 26 veterans participating in the 12th annual Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans at Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

Hunkins took over the company as CEO from his father in January of this year but knew little about how to run a business on his own.

“I never really considered it, but as I got closer toward the end of my career, I looked at security and protection [as] right in the wheelhouse of what I did in the military,” Hunkins said.

After hearing about the program from other veterans in small businesses, he jumped at the chance to apply to the boot camp program and has been engaged in everything he’s learned so far.

“This class is top-notch, it’s like the cream-of-the-crop in my mind,” Hunkins said. “The core is the instructors and the content. We’re getting instructors here that I think are great.”

Hunkins and NCC Systems are planning on expanding to more locations, specifically Plattsburgh, and adding new jobs to operate a training center.

Stutsman said not only does EBV provide intensive entrepreneurial information and advice to veterans, it also creates a comradery of cheerleaders, sounding boards and hands-to-hold, all willing to recommend the program and IVMF to other veterans looking for another path in life through new-found business ventures.

“There’s an extensive network that will keep pulling you in and making sure that there’s another support as you grow your business,” Stutsman said. “Our number one reference is from veteran to veteran and that word-of-mouth. You see them helping each other out. The real connections they make are the 30 other veterans that [sit] side-by-side.”

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