News

Mizzou Business Bootcamp Sparks U.S. Veterans

Story by: Laura Roloff

August 26, 2020

In early August, post-9-11 veterans from across the country with a dream of owning their own businesses braved travel during the pandemic and took part in an intensive eight-day residency on campus courtesy of MU’s fifth annual Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV).

“Just being around like-minded people from different backgrounds and different businesses is definitely something I’m enjoying,” said Chriscilia Cox, an EBV participant from Ludowici, Georgia, who founded sustainability firm SUMA Consulting LLC. “It’s been a real life, 101, personal, coaching, team-building activity for everybody.”

Photo of EBV participants Gary Wheeler (DeSoto, Missouri, Chriscilia Cox (Ludowici, Georgia) and Nickolas Lawson Jr. (Columbia, South Carolina) brainstorm with Greg Bier, executive director of entrepreneurship programs at MU.
Left to right: EBV participants Gary Wheeler (DeSoto, Missouri), Chriscilia Cox (Ludowici, Georgia) and Nickolas Lawson Jr. (Columbia, South Carolina) brainstorm with Greg Bier, executive director of entrepreneurship programs at MU.

Since 2015, Mizzou has been part of a consortium of universities that administer and host EBV, one of several national initiatives that the Institute for Veterans and Military Families oversees at Syracuse University. The Veterans United Foundation in Columbia, Missouri, has sponsored MU’s program since the beginning.

“We know that entrepreneurs and young companies drive new job creation in the U.S.,” said Bill Turpin, MU associate vice chancellor for economic development. “One of our priorities at MU is to help new entrepreneurs succeed through programs like EBV.”

Veterans accepted into EBV – nearly all with service-connected disabilities – learn the steps and stages of venture creation and management in a curriculum that also addresses the unique challenges and opportunities associated with being a veteran and business owner. An added bonus is building on the connection that veterans already have with each other.

“It’s a family that’s unique,” said Yashica Mack, a participant from Columbia, South Carolina. “There’s a safety and security that we have among ourselves. We want to help each other out.”

Photo of Yashica Mack (Columbia, South Carolina), Kelly Mattas, senior program coordinator, and Bier.
Center: Yashica Mack (Columbia, South Carolina) and the other EBV graduates left campus much more business savvy than when they arrived. Kelly Mattas, senior program coordinator, and Bier organized Mizzou’s bootcamp.

EBV participants completed a 30-day online business fundamentals course before meeting face-to-face on campus. This year’s residency incorporated 80 hours of instruction and 23 guest speakers, including successful business owners, angel investors, regional economic development experts, U.S. Small Business Administration officials and others.

Greg Bier, executive director of entrepreneurship programs at MU, said the intent was to show participants the importance of networking and finding a similar “entrepreneurial ecosystem” at home.

Photo: Marie Dautenhahn (Auxvasse, Missouri) discusses entrepreneurial resilience with speaker Kelsey Raymond, co-founder and CEO of Influence & Co.
Marie Dautenhahn (Auxvasse, Missouri), left, discusses entrepreneurial resilience with speaker Kelsey Raymond, co-founder and CEO of Influence & Co.

“Sometimes transitioning service members don’t always fit into the work force,” Bier said. “We want them to be part of the economic engine in their community, and the way to do that is by giving them the tools to get involved and create a sustainable venture that supports them and their families.”

Mack said the residency helped “hone in” her ideas for Sheka B & Associates LLC, a sports agency for professional boxers. Before deciding to be her own boss, she earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology, worked as a military recruiter and found success as a realtor. Through it all, she discovered sitting at a desk and working regular hours weren’t for her.

“It feels like you’re in another world in a sense — being a Black woman in a male-dominated industry,” Mack said. “I get here and feel so much support; it’s empowering.”

After participating in the EBV residency, graduates receive 12 months of support ranging from marketing assistance to legal advice. According to Bier, more than 70% of the 82 veterans who received training during the program’s first five years are still in business.

U.S. Army veteran Ryan Bell, production manager at Veterans United Home Loans, said the company’s foundation is proud to sponsor the EBV program.

“Veterans and service members, by nature, are thinkers, problem solvers, doers and achievers,” Bell said. “EBV has an excellent track record of getting its veteran entrepreneurs the mentoring needed to be set up for success. Veterans get more opportunity, resources and access. Businesses are created to help the greater good.”