By: Joshua Danker-Dake | Category: In Our Communities | Issue: January 2011
The Veterans with Disabilities Entrepreneurship Program 2010 class.
The Veterans with Disabilities Entrepreneurship Program (VEP), from Oklahoma State University’s Riata Center for Entrepreneurship, is now in its second year. VEP is a rigorous and challenging program designed to provide disabled veterans of the armed services with focused practical training in new venture creation and growth while addressing issues unique to disability and public benefits programs; it also serves to establish a support structure for the program’s graduates. VEP is offered completely free to qualified veterans who are accepted into the program (“delegates”), and participants also receive 24 continuing education credits from OSU’s Spears School of Business.
“This program was a high priority for me when I came here two years ago,” says Dr. Mike Morris, director of the School of Entrepreneurship. “OSU has one of the most comprehensive entrepreneurship programs in the country, and our involvement with the community is vital. A disabled vet faces a lot of difficulties in transition, both from military to civilian life, and also to disabled life. We started this program because it was the right thing to do: we have an obligation to give back to these vets, and we wanted to use the quality resources and programs that we have and adapt them to address their needs. VEP is a rich, intensive program.”
VEP consists of three phases. In the first, during December and January, delegates participate in a self-study curriculum and develop their own business concepts. In the second, an eight-day residency in Stillwater, delegates attend experiential workshops and receive lessons from entrepreneurship faculty. In the third, delegates receive ten months of support and mentorship from entrepreneurship experts.
“In our first year, we had 30 disabled veterans from across the country,” says Morris. “We’ve seen success with over two-thirds of them in launching new ventures and making existing business models more successful.” This year, VEP will host 44 delegates.
“One of the biggest parts of the program is the extent to which we reinforce our delegates that they can do this; we want to give them the confidence to deal with challenges and risks and create a successful venture,” says Morris. “It’s life-changing for our delegates because of how many people care and contribute and invest quality time in them, simply because they believe in what we’re doing.”
Networking is also a valuable part of the program. “Once they’re with us, we see bonding and real connections developing amongst the vets,” says Morris. “They’re different ages, from different branches and from different conflicts, but here they can develop a network of people they can relate to and get feedback from.”
VEP covers all the delegates’ costs: airfare, accommodations, food and materials. “This program costs over $100,000 to do, and we don’t use any taxpayer money – we have to raise it all,” says Morris. In addition to financial donations, VEP also welcomes volunteer mentors and sponsors who can provide goods or services.
Joe Perez was a 2010 VEP delegate. During the residency portion of the program, he created the framework for what would become Frontline Support Solutions, a general contracting and facility management firm based in San Antonio, Texas. Four months later, Frontline was awarded its first federal contract. Frontline has since undertaken other projects, and continues to operate with the stated goals of providing jobs for veterans and assisting aspiring entrepreneurs in starting their own businesses. Perez credits the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program with broadening the vision for his business and accelerating his business success.
The Riata Center will begin accepting applications for the 2012 Veterans Entrepreneurship Program this March, and will notify candidates of acceptance by October 1. For more information, including how to apply for next year’s program, visit entrepreneurship.okstate.edu/vep. To donate to VEP, contact the Riata Center or visit www.osugiving.com.