The U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) and Department of Defense partnered to offer a Boots to Business class for transitioning service members and their spouses at Naval Support Activity Bethesda recently.
“In America today, one in 10 small businesses is owned by a veteran, and veterans are about 45 percent more likely than the average civilian to be self-employed or own a small business,” said Rhett Jeppson, associate administrator with the Office of Veterans Business Development, SBA. “When you look at what veterans do in the small business world right now, it only makes sense to provide a pathway of opportunity for veterans and transitioning service members to get a bit of a head start in starting their own business.”
Class instructor Raymond Toenniessen, director of new initiatives and external relations at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, said the class is open to any transitioning service member, as well as their spouse, for no cost to the individual.
“The course is for people who are interested in entrepreneurship and leveraging business ownership as a pathway in the military, and it will really help them find out if this is something that they want to do,” said Toenniessen. “We talk a lot about the lifestyle of an entrepreneur and the different paths to being a business owner, and some of the key decision points that are involved in the process.”
Toenniessen said the course is only being offered as a pilot program for now at a handful of bases, but it has had a great reception so far, and is planned to be introduced service-wide and worldwide next year.
“The participation has been phenomenal,” said Toenniessen. “We’ve had really engaged classes, who have been very receptive and eager to learn.”
Lt. Cdr. Stuart Hitchcock, deputy commander for surgery at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center General Surgery Clinic, signed up for the class with his wife, Susan, to see what it could offer each of them.
“I signed up for the class to learn more about operating a business,” said Stuart. “The material that I’m learning is multi-dimensional and has broad applications, not only in the civilian side, but on the military side.”
He said the biggest lesson he learned from the class was the importance of aligning a business owner’s vision for their business with the needs of the customer.
“Due to frequent turnovers in the military, there can be a resulting lack of control and oversight,” said Stuart. “There are ways that efficiency can be improved, while still maintaining a customer focus.”
Susan, a nurse at children’s hospitals for 22 years, agreed maintaining a focus on customer service is what will set small businesses apart from their competitors.
“In an age of outlets, strip malls and discount stores, small businesses are able to focus on customer service, and customers are willing to pay for that,” said Susan.
As a military spouse, Susan said she’s seen how difficult it can be for spouses of active duty service members to relocate every few years, and face additional economic stresses if their spouse deploys. She said she signed up for the class to see if building a portable business is feasible, and added that the class has been very informative and answered her questions.
“The class has absolutely been worth it,” she said. “The speakers have been very good and are able to practically speak to their experience, giving a lot of credibility to everything that we learn. I learned that it is possible to build a portable business, providing a level of cushion or comfort [to the spouse] during that time.”
Jeppson said the freedom to create your own business out of your own ideas is one of the benefits to living in this country, and the Boots to Business class was designed to educate and prepare transitioning service members for the future.
“One of the great things about Americans is we are always trying something new, and we can help raise the amount of success that we have through education, and we can help prepare the person for the challenges ahead,” said Jeppson.
To find out more about the SBA or Boots to Business, visit http://www.sba.gov/bootstobusiness.