E.J. Ourso College of Business Dean Richard White, third from left, poses with members of the 2017 class of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities at LSU, including, from left, Jeremy James, Dwight Thomas, Todd Smith, Aron Thompson, Al Urban, Chris Jackson, Wade Light, Christopher Daming and Lenell White. (Courtesy of LSU)
When attorney and veteran Patrick Morin set out to start his own law firm, he knew he had the necessary legal experience under his belt, along with the determined initiative of a former Marine, but his business acumen was lacking.
“I knew how to be a lawyer, but not how to run a business,” Morin says.
A fellow veteran told Morin about an entrepreneurship bootcamp for disabled veterans held at universities across the U.S. When he discovered LSU was one of 10 host universities, Morin, who had recently moved back to New Orleans, thought it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
In 2015, Morin attended the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities—or EBV—through LSU’s E.J. Ourso College of Business Executive Education program. The bootcamp offers business management and experiential training to veterans who were disabled while serving in the military. It covers a wide range of topics, from advertising to human resources, to help develop the veterans’ business plans.
“To me the hardest thing was the marketing side,” Morin says. “I came from the Marine Corps to being a lawyer, so it was new to me. But we had great courses on it.”
“As an educator, teaching college students is one thing. But these disciplined bootcamp veterans come in and they are hungry for guidance and knowledge. They have an attitude that says, ‘Get me started, and I’ll take it from there.’”
—Brian Andrews, LSU finance instructor
One of the most valuable aspects is the access EBV provides to professors who have a wealth of business knowledge, along with successful professionals who also teach courses, Morin adds. The Lemoine Company President and CEO Lenny Lemoine and Tin Roof Brewing CEO William McGehee both helped out the year Morin attended the local EBV program.
Since then, Morin has started not one but two of his own businesses. In 2015, he opened Morsel Law, a New Orleans-based firm providing legal services for the food and beverage industry, and he is now launching a second venture: An online portal that helps food and beverage startups handle legal matters without having to hire a lawyer.
Participants and professors alike have been touched by the EBV program. Brian Andrews, an LSU finance instructor, taught veterans about revenue streams for the first time in March. He was asked to do it this year, but Andrews enjoyed it so much that by next year he says he’ll be the one asking to come back and help.
“The program itself is wonderful,” he says. “As an educator, teaching college students is one thing. But these disciplined bootcamp veterans come in and they are hungry for guidance and knowledge. They have an attitude that says, ‘Get me started, and I’ll take it from there.’”
Syracuse University is the national host of the EBV program, which began in 2008, and LSU was accepted into the EBV Consortium in 2010. Since then, 80 veterans have completed the LSU program and 68% have started a business, with 92% still in operation, says Michelle Boullion, director of the LSU EBV program.
The program consists of three parts. The first is a three-week online course, and the second phase is a residency program that takes place over eight days, led by accomplished entrepreneurs and business educators. The final phase provides participants one year of continued counseling, support and resources on the national level. The EBV is free to veterans and funded by donors. Boullion says LSU is actively fundraising and looking for donors to support the program.
EBV participants hail from across the U.S. But not many come from Louisiana, so this fall LSU will launch a shorter version of EBV specifically for Louisiana veterans called the Louisiana Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, Boullion says. Participants will complete the same online course as the regular program, attend a one-day LSU bootcamp and then become connected with a business counselor in their area.
A central element of the EBV program focuses on issues related to disabled veterans and offers guidance on public benefit programs and support for participants. Nick Green, a 2012 graduate of the LSU EBV, says this is one of the most helpful aspects.
“One of the first things I did was get a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business registration through Veteran Affairs,” Green says. “It gives you an advantage when you bid on government contracts.”
Green is the owner of a family plumbing company in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. His great-grandfather started Green’s Plumbing and Heating in 1928. Green, who served in the Army from 2001 to 2005, bought the company from his father in 2012 after attending the LSU bootcamp and developing a concrete business plan.
“I was looking at buying the company at the time and wanted business training,” Green says. “It has helped me take the company even further than my dad had.”
Under his ownership, Green’s Plumbing has grown from seven employees to more than 30. In 2015, he bought out his largest competitor in the area. Green also recently acquired 160 self-storage units on 11 acres that he rents out as a side business.
Green, 34, is a service-disabled veteran who suffered several injuries during his four years in the 3rd Ranger Battalion. He says having access to a program designed specifically for service-disabled entrepreneurs and taught by world-class business executives is what makes EBV an invaluable experience.
“A lot of it, too, is being with other veteran business owners and hearing their experiences,” Green says. “It’s given me the inspiration to do what I’ve done.”
Morin, 39, also served four years from 2001 to 2005 and sustained injuries while in the Marines. Torn back muscles, three knee surgeries and a collapsed arch in his foot from wearing combat boots in Iraq has made both standing and sitting for long periods of time difficult for Morin. He also suffers from combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“While the injuries have made everyday life a little more challenging, I’ve been able to adapt my routine to alleviate some discomfort,” Morin says.
He has a stand-up desk and rotates between sitting and standing throughout the day. As for the PTSD, Morin has come to understand and deal with it over time, but it still remains and affects his work and home life to this day.
“While this is not a visible injury, it had a profound impact on my life for years,” he adds.
Morin and Green are just two examples of thousands of veterans who have suffered from service-related injuries, yet have gone on to own and operate their own businesses as entrepreneurs.
According to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, veteran-owned businesses represent 10% of U.S. small businesses and people with disabilities are twice as likely to be self-employed than the average person. It’s programs like EBV that help keep those numbers up, which is one reason why Morin and Green stay involved with it today. Morin returned to LSU this year to serve as a mentor for the program and Green regularly attends EBV events and conferences.
“They’ve done a great job,” Morin says, “and it’s only gotten better.”