Boot camp for business

Boot camp for business

Disabled veterans learn the basics of entrepreneurship at LSU.

Retired Army Sergeant First Class Kim Robinson had aspirations of putting more, not less, on her plate when she finished her 10-year tour of active duty with the military in 2009. So the Prairieville resident decided the best course of action for her was to open a Subway franchise.

Thanks to LSU's Stephenson Entrepreneurship Institute, she now has that opportunity. Robinson is one of a dozen disabled veterans who participated in the SEI's inaugural Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities earlier this spring and got a crash course in the skills needed to launch her own business.  

A colonel whom Robinson met in Iraq told her about the program. “When I retired, she recommended that I go through it,” says Robinson, who injured her neck and back during a tour of duty in Iraq. “It's an excellent program that I would definitely recommend for anyone, even if they just think they might want to start their own business.”

LSU is one of eight universities in the country to have hosted such a program, which originated at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. The idea was to help disabled veterans who served in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom learn how to break into the business world.

The process began with three weeks of online classes to assist the veterans in developing a doable business plan. The participants then came to Baton Rouge for a week-long series of classes. While here, they met with successful entrepreneurs and other leading business minds who helped them hone their plans and move from the conceptual to the implementation stage.

“It's hard to put a business plan together in eight days, so we developed the first phase of the program [online] so that when they come here for phase two, their business plan is a little further along,” says Robin Kistler, director of executive education and of the Entrepreneurial Bootcamp at LSU. “That way once they're here, we're actually improving and building on the business plan so they can start to put it into place.” 

The third and final step of the process is the “after-care program,” which continues for several months. In this phase, LSU staff will check in on the veterans' progress periodically to help see that their business becomes a success. 

“[The veterans] arrive here with little idea of what they really want to do,” Kistler says. “Our goal is to help them polish that idea and make sure it's successful.”

LSU's inaugural program drew veterans from around the region and beyond. One participant came from Puerto Rico. They also ran the generational gamut: The youngest involved was 29; the oldest, nearly 60.  

The business plans the veterans developed also varied widely. In addition to Robinson's Subway franchise, participants proposed a Christian-themed café, a plan for a family-run air conditioning and heating company, and an indoor baseball practice facility in Puerto Rico. 

“[Veteran Elmer Rivera] said there were no indoor baseball facilities in Puerto Rico like there were in the United States,” Kistler says. “Baseball is so popular there, he thought [an indoor facility] would be very successful and also a great thing for the kids of Puerto Rico.” 


Certified veteran-owned small businesses


East Baton Rouge Parish

Ascension Parish

Livingston Parish

SOURCE: Louisiana Economic Development

LSU plans to make the program an annual event. Robinson thinks that's a good idea. She says the insight she gained from the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities has helped her begin implementing her plan for the Subway location she hopes to open either in or near Prairieville. Currently, she is scouting locations and anticipates opening her restaurant by the end of the year. 

“With Subway, you can't go wrong if you do your research, get a good location and have a good business plan,” Robinson says. “Subway helps set you up for success because if you succeed, they succeed.”

That's the premise behind the entrepreneurship program as a whole. Kistler plans to build on the achievements of the inaugural program to assist even more veterans in the 2013 session. 

“It worked seamlessly,” Kistler says. “We have a lot of experience in training entrepreneurs, so we had access to the best entrepreneurs and best faculty.”

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