February 28, 2012 (The Advocate) – Sitting at desks in a Lod Cook Hotel conference room on Sunday, 11 military veterans were armed with a new set of weapons — laptops, pamphlets and PowerPoint slides.
From across the country, the veterans, who are from 29 to 59 years old, said they have different goals in life, including opening a restaurant franchise or starting an indoor baseball facility.
But all of them want to learn how to operate a business, so they’re going through “boot camp” all over again.
Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, provided by LSU’s Stephenson Entrepreneurship Institute, began Sunday and continues through March 3.
The boot camp, which is a first for LSU, is part of a training program at several universities nationwide aimed at helping disabled veterans get acclimated to the business world, said Robin Kistler, director of LSU’s program.
Other universities that participate are Syracuse University, Florida State University and the University of California at Los Angeles.
“They (the veterans) need people who can give them business advice,” Kistler said.
Sunday’s session felt like a classroom setting. The veterans sat in a U-formation of desks as lecturers went through PowerPoint slides full of business-launching tips.
One of Sunday’s lecturers, Mike Ricks, used his prior military experience to relate to the veterans.
Ricks, the Louisiana district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration, served in the Army for 13 years before retiring in 1999.
Ricks gave tips about applying for special loans as well as maximizing business opportunities and resources. He also told the veterans that time equals money, which isn’t always the case during military service.
“You reap what you sow,” he told the students. “If your business fails, it’ll be because of your decisions. If your business succeeds, it’ll be because of your decisions.”
Before his presentation, Ricks said he wants to help veterans find all the programs they need to be successful in business.
“A program like this for me back then (when I retired) would have been immensely helpful,” he said.
Veterans eligible for the program are those who have a service-connected disability, designated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and who served on active duty after September 2001, according to an LSU news release.
Twelve veterans signed up for the LSU program, but one could not attend Sunday’s session because she was sick, Kistler said.
Of the 12, eight are men and four are women. Only four hail from Louisiana.
Kim Robinson, a Prairieville native, served in the Army from 1989 to 2009, eventually reaching the rank of sergeant first class. She declined to reveal her disability.
Robinson, 40, said she wants to open her own Subway sandwich shop franchise.
“I’m just trying to get the knowledge and skills I need to be successful,” she said.
Elmer Rivera, 39, also served in the Army and medically retired in 2004 after he was hit in the stomach during a mortar attack. He said he has undergone 18 surgeries since the attack.
Rivera is from Puerto Rico but heard about the program through Wounded Warriors. He said his wife attended the seminar at Syracuse University.
Rivera works as a quality representative for pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. But he wants to follow his passion and open an indoor baseball training facility back home, which he says would be the first in Puerto Rico.
Rivera said the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp has already given him a wealth of knowledge about starting his own business.
“The program is set up so you can get out with all the tools you need,” he said.
It’s too late for veterans to sign up for LSU’s sessions this week, Kistler said. However, any disabled veteran interested in the summer programs at other universities can go to ebv.lsu.edu for more information.
The program is funded by private donations and is free for veterans, Kistler said.
LSU hopes to grow its program to 25 people next year, Kistler said.
“We’re going to continue to train more and more people,” she said. “They only gave us 12 this time so we could get our feet wet.”