Military veterans who are interested in starting their own businesses are invited to take part in the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program, which is presenting a series of workshops through January.
The next session locally will be held this Saturday morning at the University of West Florida Conference Center.
“It’s a pretty intensive program; it goes from now through May of next year,” said Marc Churchwell, director of the Military and Veterans Resource Center at UWF, which is one of six network partners of the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program.
“It includes an online component for those folks that have kind of an idea that they want to be an entrepreneur, but they’re not sure,” said Churchwell in referencing the first tier of the program. To get started, interested veterans can go to the Veterans Florida website to learn the basics of entrepreneurship at their own pace.
The second tier of the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program is the series of workshops that are now underway.
“The workshops are more of a discovery,” Churchwell said. “If you have a pretty good idea, a business concept, that you want to explore maybe as a startup company, then come to a workshop.”
At the workshops, veterans can learn more about how you can launch their businesses, and network with other individuals in a similar situation.
The first workshop was held on September 30, under the leadership of program coordinator Bob Foster, who has decades of experience as an entrepreneur.
“He’s got some wonderful experiences and stories to share; very pragmatic realist examples to share with folks so they’re not going into this thinking, hey this is great, I’ll have my own business, get rich quick, sit back and retire,” said Churchwell of Foster, adding that it doesn’t really happen like that.
He says Foster’s 30 years of business experience can help participating veterans “see what it’s really about before they jump into the deep end of the pool, and now they’re committed and they can’t swim out.”
“I got more information as far as my trademarks go and networking business opportunities through Escambia County school systems and it was a very productive workshop,” said 29-year-old Cody Hill, who participated in that first workshop.
Hill is a six-year Navy veteran, who separated from the military in 2015, with stops in Kentucky and Indiana before enrolling at West Florida. He’s studying Management Information Systems, while pursuing a start-up to address texting while driving.
“We’re really passionate about stopping texting and driving and we have some technology pieces that we’re working on, as well as a cartoon character that we have developed to educate the public on the distractions and consequences of irresponsible cell phone use.” Hill said.
Hill recognizes the value of the workshop series in terms of what he’s trying to accomplish.
“Absolutely,” said Hill, pointing out that he learned more in those three hours than he had in almost two-and-a-half years of developing is business concept in conjunction with a few family members. “And, when the workshop presented with some of the graphic information, it lifted some of the weight off my chest to let me know that I’m not the only one experiencing the hardships of developing your own business.”
For Hill and other veterans, there are five more workshops in the series. The next one is set for this Saturday, Oct. 14, from 9 a.m. to noon in the UWF Conference Center. It will focus on “The Lean Startup Model for Entrepreneurs.”
Future sessions will cover financial management basics, how to fund your startup, the importance of people, and marketing your startup.
After the workshop series, MVRC director Marc Churchwell says there will be a ‘Shark Tank” style pitch competition for a select group of veterans who are on the cutting edge with their business concepts and are committed to seeing them through.
“And, I say committed because this is a free program for veterans,” said Churchwell. “It costs nothing for veterans to participate in this, so we want it to be those veterans who are really committed and have a good plan.”
At the end of the day, Churchwell says the program is about much more than the individual veteran who launches a new company.
“This is so that we have locally veteran owned businesses who are [going to] hire more veterans. It becomes a force multiplier for our veteran community in the state of Florida and for us in particular in the Pensacola area.”
The Veterans Entrepreneurship Program is open to military veterans of any age, who are residents of Florida, honorably discharged or are within a year of separation.