STILLWATER — In the fourth year after its inception, Oklahoma State University officials are looking to expand a program designed to help disabled veterans launch their own businesses.
As this week's Veterans Entrepreneurship Program wraps up at OSU, officials at the university's Riata Center of Entrepreneurship and the Spears School of Business are looking for ways to bring more veterans into the program.
The program brings a group of disabled veterans to OSU for a so-called entrepreneurship “boot camp” that includes speakers and training on how to launch a business.
The participants begin the program weeks before the boot camp, going through online training to prepare them for the program, said Misty Stutsman, manager of outreach and events for the Riata Center. After the boot camp ends, each participant is teamed with a business owner from the Rotary Club of Tulsa, who acts as a personal mentor, Stutsman said.
The program originally began at Syracuse University and came to OSU in January 2010. In its first year at OSU, 32 veterans participated. This year, that number has grown to 41. But that number doesn't reflect the “overwhelming” number of applications the program receives each year, said business school spokesman Terry Tush.
Next year, Tush said, the school hopes to open the program up to more participants. University officials also are working with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's College of Business to start a similar program there, he said.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Eric Bashaw is one of this year's participants. Bashaw, who works a civilian job as a cable splicer at Camp Pendleton, Calif., hopes to start a communications company of his own in the next few years.
Bashaw said the program has given him a better indication of how to turn that idea into a viable business. In the past, when he's spoken to business owners about how to launch a company, they've been reluctant to give him much information.
“It's kind of smoke and mirrors,” he said.
But the speakers and other participants in the program have all been willing to share even the minutest details, Bashaw said. The fact that all the participants in the program share a military background makes it easier to communicate, he said.
“We're generally all trying to go in the same direction,” he said.