WEATHERFORD — Helping disabled veterans start and grow businesses is life-changing for the veterans and those who work with them, Craig Watters told the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education during their meeting Wednesday.
Watters gave an update on the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program at Oklahoma State University and plans to expand it. He is director of the Riata Center at OSU’s School of Entrepreneurship.
“What we hope they get from this is a chance to make their dreams real, to find some self-worth,” Watters said following his presentation. “And if they have self-worth, to enhance that self-worth. ‘Yes you can start a business, and yes your experiences are important. You mean something to us and your business can mean a lot to the economy.’”
Through workshops, panels, discussion and mentoring, the program helps program participants work toward their dreams of business ownership.
“We take veterans from all wars,” Watters said. “We have a waiting list always.”
Only 25 veterans are selected each year from the 100 to 150 applicants so the faculty can “get to know them, to work with them personally,” he said. “We listen a lot to what they have to say.”
The program is free to the veterans, with 90 percent of the funding coming from private donations and the rest from grants and the school, he said.
“I think it’s especially important for disabled veterans because they give so much to their country, and then have a program for entrepreneurship to come back to is just an outstanding way to help prepare them for the rest of their lives,” said Regent Toney Stricklin, of Lawton.
Stricklin, a retired Army general, said he would like to see the program expanded to other veterans.
“Veterans of all categories are going to need help training,” he said. “A lot of veterans are going to be coming back to us as the military downsizes.”
Watters said the Riata Center at OSU is building a consortium with schools in Tennessee, Florida and elsewhere to make the program available to more veterans.
The center also plans to partner with corporations that will provide funding and hire veterans willing to work for the corporation rather than for themselves.
Stricklin and Watters said veterans already have a lot of the skills needed to run a business because of their military training. They are disciplined, understand structure and know how to give and take orders.
The regents will continue their meeting Thursday. Southwestern Oklahoma State University is hosting the two-day meeting.