Entrepreneurship Bootcamp Empowers Veterans

Alex van Breukelen knows firsthand the challenges of launching and running a successful business. He opened The Americana bar and restaurant in Baltimore less than a year and a half ago and has been managing budgets, marketing plans, human resources, and more ever since.

Thanks to a new entrepreneurship training program offered through the Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship (PIHE), van Breukelen is gaining the skills he needs to be a better manager and build a successful business model. From September 29 to October 6, van Breukelen was one of eleven veterans who participated in the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) at the School of Hotel Administration (SHA).

"If I had known two years ago what I have learned [at EBV], I would be leaps and bounds ahead of where I am right now," said van Breukelen.

The EBV, which will be offered annually by the PIHE, begins with an online curriculum that participants complete before they arrive on campus for the weeklong residency program. After they leave campus, they have access to ongoing technical assistance from faculty experts and EBV partners.

"We know that we are not able to teach the EBV students everything they need to know to start their hospitality or real estate businesses in one week,"said Neil Tarallo, senior lecturer and academic director of the PIHE. "However, we do know that we can provide a strong foundation from which they can build. Perhaps most importantly, we can give them hope by working with them to create a path by which they can succeed."

The EBV program began in 2007 at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. Since then, seven other universities from across the country have joined the EBV consortium, offering experiential training in entrepreneurship and small business management to veterans who were disabled as a result of their service supporting operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

The EBV at Cornell was the first to offer a specialized program focused on hospitality and real estate entrepreneurship, and it covered a wide variety of topics including business plan development, accounting, marketing strategies, Excel and other software programs, and special financing opportunities available to veterans. Sessions were led by more than a dozen SHA faculty members; speakers from the Culinary Institute of America, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, and the Small Business Administration; and finance, real estate, community banking professionals.

EBV participants' previous experience with entrepreneurship varied greatly. Some, like Alex van Breukelen, currently own their own businesses; some have a passion for entrepreneurship but are still honing their business concepts; and some have opened businesses in the past and are looking to be more successful in their next venture.

"I know from experience that entrepreneurship can empower people to change their lives in a way that few initiatives can, and it is especially exciting to open the world of hospitality entrepreneurship to our disabled veterans," said Tarallo.

That empowerment does not come without hard work. The EBV is designed to build veterans' skills and their confidence in those skills, but the program also teaches them to examine every part of their business concept with a critical eye.

"During EBV, I rethought my idea a million times. Sometimes my confidence has gone lower, but I think I need that. The next day I come in and my confidence is through the roof," explained participant Rick Yarosh. "It's like the army--we have to break it down before we build it back up. That's what we did in basic training. EBV really is a boot camp."