KENNESAW — A business boot camp designed to transition military veterans from the battlefield to the boardroom was conducted for the first time by Kennesaw State University last month.
The Georgia Advancing Veterans Education, or GAVE, program was created by the Coles College of Business to assist military veterans who are aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Being an entrepreneur takes discipline. It takes guts. You are risking a lot,” said Sheb True, director of the GAVE initiative, about why so many veterans are interested in starting small business that are “the backbone of the U.S.”
From August to October, True reviewed 36 applications that included drafts of business plans, ranging from nonprofit startups to products designed to springboard a million dollar empire.
“The application process makes them articulate what they want to do,” True said about the proposals for restaurants, information technology projects, new lines in the fashion industry and a wellness clinic for female veterans.
After working on business plans through the winter, 17 Georgia veterans, ranging in age from 26 to 60 years old from various branches of the military, enlisted in a week-long boot camp from March 22 through March 28.
The free program — including more than 80 hours of in-class instruction, materials, hotel accommodations and meals — gave participants a chance to learn from Coles College of Business faculty, small business owners and successful entrepreneurs who volunteered time to teach workshops and lead discussions on how to develop business plans and presentation skills.
There were sessions on technology, problem solving, financials and government contracts from industry experts.
Servicemen, servicewomen ready for action
True said the boot camp gave the servicemen and servicewomen an excuse to focus full time on their dreams.
“It is a crossroads to really see if they are ready,” True said.
True said at the beginning of the week one aspiring entrepreneur was not able to clearly explain his business concept in 15 minutes. By the end of the week, he was able to confidently deliver a one-minute targeted pitch to potential investors.
Last month, the students presented their preliminary business plans to members of the Atlanta business community, including bankers and consultants.
Making their pitch to investors
The students were set to return to KSU on May 3, when final proposals will be delivered to “angel investors” for feedback and possible collaboration.
True said this final stage should be a clear demonstration if an idea is ready for an influx of cash or if it would be a mistake to invest money.
Abraham Suarez, 25, of Smyrna has served in the National Guard for six years.
“I am going to do my 20,” Suarez said about his commitment to the National Guard.
Suarez is a former officer with the Smyrna Police Department, and is now working in private security and wants to start his own company, Steel Security.
During the boot camp, Suarez said he was constantly tweaking his business plan.
“There was a lot of stuff I did not account for,” Suarez said.
Suarez said the biggest lessons he will take away is about startup costs and that preparation is key.
“Plan, plan, plan and write it on paper,” he said.
Suarez said he wants to be his own boss, building a team and healthy work environment for his future employees.
“I have worked for places that have the wrong people,” Suarez said.
A millionaire, mom, motivational speaker
Last month, the boot camp soldiers were seated behind tables with binders full of information spread out in front of them.
The GAVE participants were eager for even more exact information and inspiration from ordinary people who have succeeded in business.
Joyce Bone, author and Atlanta-based entrepreneur, gave the group the straight talk and candid answers the servicemen and servicewomen were seeking.
“I came from the streets. I am more of a hustler,” Bone told the group.
At 28 years old, Bone was a stay-at-home mom who took a $10,000 risk and co-founded EarthCare, an environmental company that grew into a $125 million dollar NASDAQ-traded business.
Bone did admit during her speaking session at the time, in 1997, “there was money everywhere,” including access to bank loans.
Still, Bone said if a person knows his or her own worth in the market place, then “you can create your own life.”
“If you get really good at what you do, people will pay for it,” Bone said.