Dr. Michael H. Morris and his team founded the National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) in 2009 at Oklahoma State University, and it has expanded to include programs at the University of Florida, University of North Dakota and UniversityTennessee Chattanooga. “We have launched various ventures targeting people who operate under conditions of more adversity and, as a military veteran myself, we felt that veterans are part of a community that could: (A) Benefit from rigorous experience to succeed in entrepreneurship and (B) Were especially deserving given the price they paid for our freedom,” Morris explains.
VEP provides an innovative training opportunity for veterans interested in starting a new venture as a means to financial independence. It is structured with hands-on learning, personalized interaction and mentoring. Veterans tend to be more likely than nonveterans to start businesses, according to VEP, despite having higher barriers to entry. “Veterans obviously are committed to a mission, comfortable with hard work, demonstrate tenacity and overcome obstacles (certainly in a warfare context). Integrity is everything. So, if you look at values associated with military service, they go a long way towards effective success in entrepreneurial start-ups,” Morris said. VEP recognizes the unique challenges of its participants including, but not limited to: 1) adapting to living with a service-related disability; 2) transitioning from military to civilian life. “In military context, things are orderly and, while that type of thinking helps the veterans in business, entrepreneurship can be chaotic, nonlinear and uncontrollably,” affirms Morris.
“The greatest joy I get is finding ways to connect the dots for them to be successful. Motivation and encouragement helps to change lives!” – Dr. Michael H. Morris
VEP is free for selected veterans with service-connected disabilities. “We don’t want them to spend a penny because we want them to focus entirely on their venture,” Morris says. “We want them to have an amazing experience but it’s not a free lunch. We have an expectation for participants to start something or improve what they have.” VEP consists of three training stages: 1) Five weeks of online self-study, plus group critique opportunities. 2) Eight-day campus boot camp filled with business workshops and more, followed by professional pitches. 3) Five months of mentoring.
“The course happened at the right time [for me]. Fate… mandated by god,” declares veteran Jose “Joe” Perez, a participant from the inaugural class. “I wanted to leave our family business to go out on my own despite the bad economy at the time. The instructors and the curriculum are among the best to help build a framework for any venture,” Perez said. He and fellow classmates learned about business concepts, business plans, funding, marketing, accounting, operations, human resources, legal issues and more.
Veteran Leanne E. King participated in 2013 as a new business owner. “The program offers an incredibly rare and special opportunity to personally tap into the knowledge of Dr. Morris and various successful mentors,” says King, who credits VEP with enhancing her human resources consulting firm, SeeKingHR. She now returns to “give back” as a mentor by facilitating VEP’s HR sessions. “The greatest joy I get is finding ways to connect the dots for them to be successful. Motivation and encouragement helps to change lives!”
VEP has an impressive success rate of 70 percent; whereas, according to Forbes, traditionally 9 out of 10 start-ups fail. How? Morris says anyone can be successful with the right plan and support as VEP offers. “We want vets that have a passion and can stick with it and hope the community will offer referrals for ideal candidates. Entrepreneurship can be a viable path for veterans looking to find their way,” he says. Approximately forty veterans will be accepted into the next VEP class at UF; however, applicants who do not obtain a slot may be selected for a partner site. Find more information at warrington.ufl.edu/VEP or call (352) 273-0330.