This new program teaches veterans how to become entrepreneurs

Career paths for veterans aren’t always clear—yet while they’re in the military, many veterinarians acquire exactly the kinds of skills that can lead to successful entrepreneurship: focus, the ability to overcome unpleasant situations, and leadership skills.

But becoming an entrepreneur is something most people, including veterans, don’t know how to do. A new program at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business seeks to open those doors.

The William & Mary Veteran Entrepreneur Scholars program, which launched with a pilot cohort this summer, was made possible by an anonymous alumni gift. It’s taught bootcamp style – with the goal of helping veterans start their own businesses.

“Vets are smart and resilient,” said Will Gregory, educator and founder of Veteran Entrepreneur Scholars Lead. “They keep their sense of humor when things go haywire. That’s a superpower for starting a business. Everything when you do a startup collapses. You have to solve problems on the fly, sometimes with not much information and a lot of demands on you. The military is one of the best places to cultivate these founding skills.”

According to a study by Intuit QuickBooks, 17 million new entrepreneurs will enter the economy in 2022. And veteran-owned businesses — like the Black Rifle Coffee Company — are on the rise.

Jonathan “JD” Due, executive director of the Center for Military Transition at William & Mary, said mentoring veterinarians into entrepreneurship can mean different things – as a main job or as a second source of income. And small entrepreneurial efforts are also seen as a way to solve problems – while generating additional capital at the same time.

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“This combination is good for both problem solving and business building,” he said.

Support and empowerment programs for veterans must be in place, however, because becoming an entrepreneur isn’t just about getting educated. It requires support and outreach to access things like funding.

Charles “Chuck” Williamson, an Army veteran who is currently pursuing an MBA from William & Mary, completed the pilot program. He and a friend have been working to create a game that teaches military tactical skills, and he says the program opened his eyes to everything that goes into starting a successful business.

“The military is great at teaching you how to deal with setbacks and challenges, but not really the actual specific skills like meeting with investors or starting a company,” Williamson said. “They teach you how to interview, not how to raise capital. But through the program I learned a lot of things I needed to learn.”

Williamson said he will continue to work on her game with his friend – while he completes his MBA.

Gregory said the first official cohort is due to start in late November and there have been many applicants. They plan to keep the cohorts small at first, so each group gets to know each other and provides peer support and mentoring. An active follow-up support system is also in the works, with cohorts being organized on an ongoing basis for the time being.

“Our goal is for them to be able to exit the program and hit the ground running,” Gregory said.

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