Career paths for veterans aren’t always clear — however, while in the military, many vets gain the exact type of skills that can lead to successful entrepreneurship: focus, the ability to push through uncomfortable situations and leadership.
But becoming an entrepreneur isn’t something that most people, including veterans, know how to do. A new program at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business is trying to open those doors.
The William & Mary Veteran Entrepreneur Scholars program, which launched with a pilot cohort this summer was enabled by an anonymous alumni gift. It’s taught boot camp style — with the aim of helping veterans start their own businesses.
“Vets are sharp and resilient,” said Will Gregory, Veteran Entrepreneur Scholars Lead instructor and founder. “They keep their sense of humor when everything is going crazy. That’s a superpower for founding a company. Everything when you are doing a startup is breaking down. You have to problem solve on the fly with sometimes not much information and lots of demand on you. The military is one of the best places to cultivate those founder skills.”
Jonathan “JD” Due, executive director of the Center for Military Transition at William & Mary, said guiding vets toward entrepreneurship can mean different things — as a primary job or as a second income stream. And small entrepreneurial efforts are also seen as a way to problem solve – while generating additional capital.
“That combination is potent for both problem solving and for building businesses,” he said.
Veteran support and empowerment programs need to exist, however, because becoming an entrepreneur doesn’t just mean being trained. It requires support and community outreach to access things like funding.
Charles “Chuck” Williamson, an Army veteran who is currently pursuing an MBA at William & Mary, went through the pilot program. He and a friend have been working to develop a game that teaches military tactical skills and he said the program opened his eyes to all that goes into launching a successful venture.
“The military is great at teaching you to deal with setbacks and challenges but not really the actual specific skills like meeting with investors or incorporating a business,” Williamson said. “They teach you how to do an interview, not how to raise capital. But through the program, I learned a lot of things that I needed to learn.”
Williamson said he will continue to work with his friend on their game — while he completes his MBA.
Gregory said the first official cohort is scheduled to kick off at the end of November and there have been lots of applicants. They plan to keep cohorts small at first, so each group gets to know one another and provide peer support and mentorship. Also in the works is an active support system for follow-up, with cohorts being organized on a rolling basis for now.
“Our goal is that they are able to leave the program and hit the ground running,” Gregory said.