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Returning veterans swell ranks of US entrepreneurs

By MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press Published: October 14, 2012
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It's been a dramatic turnaround for Young, who began drinking heavily after returning from Iraq in 2009. He hit bottom when he was arrested in 2010 for threatening to hurt his two young children. It was during his jail time and his treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder that Young, who had developed a taste for entrepreneurship as a deejay in middle school, began to develop ideas for his own business.

Michael Zacchea, the executive director of the Connecticut bootcamp, said businesses like Young's that start during difficult financial times are more likely to succeed in the long run. Regardless of the veterans' career ambitions, Zacchea said, the program also aims to teach veterans to take charge of their civilian careers.

“It might be as simple as somebody starting a mom and pop shop,” he said. “It's economic but it's also about social identity reconstruction. `I used to be a warrior; now I'm an entrepreneur and I can feed myself.“'

The bootcamp program, funded with assistance from donors and foundations, began at Syracuse University in 2007 and has spread to seven other schools. The students selected from around the country receive 10 days of intensive training and, for the future, a network of close advisers.

The SBA, which supported loans worth more than $1.5 billion to veteran business owners last year, is also beginning to take training directly to military bases. Under a program called Operation Boots to Business, introductory entrepreneurship classes will be given at bases around the country starting over the next year — part of a larger effort called for by President Barack Obama to assist veterans' transition to the workforce.

Wherever possible, Jeppson said, the SBA also teams up with businesses and other groups for programs like the entrepreneurship boot camp.

“The interest is huge. A lot of people are looking for partners to do things like this,” he said.

Veteran-owned businesses can receive priority for some federal contracts, and local governments are developing programs of their own to promote entrepreneurship. Illinois, for example, passed a law this year that sets a goal of 3 percent of every state contract to go to small businesses owned by veterans.

States are coming to see small business as an ideal outlet for returning veterans who are generally highly confident and independent, Connecticut Veterans Affairs Commissioner Linda Schwartz said.

“They find when they get into a situation that they are working for someone else, the pace is not fast enough,” she said. “I think that's why entrepreneurship efforts are paying off across the country.”


Read the rest of the story on Oklahoman.com
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