The Georgia Advancing Veterans Education, or GAVE, program was created by the Coles College of Business to assist military veterans who are aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Being an entrepreneur takes discipline. It takes guts. You are risking a lot,” said Sheb True, director of the GAVE initiative, about why so many veterans are interested in starting small business that are “the backbone of the U.S.”
From August to October, True reviewed 36 applications that included drafts of business plans, ranging from nonprofit startups to products designed to springboard a million dollar empire.
“The application process makes them articulate what they want to do,” True said about the proposals for restaurants, information technology projects, new lines in the fashion industry and a wellness clinic for female veterans.
After working on business plans through the winter, 17 Georgia veterans, ranging in age from 26 to 60 years old from various branches of the military enlisted in a week long boot camp from March 22 through March 28.
The free program, including more than 80 hours of in-class instruction, materials, hotel accommodations and meals, gave participants a chance to learn from Coles College of Business faculty, small business owners and successful entrepreneurs who volunteered time to teach workshops and lead discussions on how to develop business plans and presentation skills.
There were sessions on technology, problem solving, financials and government contracts from industry experts.
Servicemen, servicewomen ready for action
True said the boot camp gave the servicemen and servicewomen an excuse to focus full time on their dreams.
“It is a crossroads to really see if they are ready,” True said.
True said at the beginning of the week, one aspiring entrepreneur was not able to clearly explain his business concept in 15 minutes. By Thursday, he was able to confidently deliver a one-minute targeted pitch to potential investors.
On Friday, the students presented their preliminary business plans to members of the Atlanta business community, including bankers and consultants.
Making their pitch to investors
The students will return to KSU on May 3, when final proposals will be delivered to “angel investors” for feedback and possible collaboration.
True said this final stage should be a clear demonstration if an idea is ready for an influx of cash or if it would be a mistake to invest money.
Abraham Suarez, 25, of Smyrna has served in the National Guard for six years.
“I am going to do my 20,” Suarez said about his commitment to the National Guard.
Suarez is a former officer with the Smyrna Police Department, who is now working in private security and wants to start his own company, Steel Security.
During the boot camp, Suarez said he was constantly tweaking his business plan.
“There was a lot of stuff I did not account for,” Suarez said.
Suarez said the biggest lessons he will take away is about startup costs and that preparation is key.
“Plan, plan, plan and write it on paper,” he said.
Suarez said he wants to be his own boss, building a team and healthy work environment for his future employees.
“I have worked for places that have the wrong people,” Suarez said.
A millionaire, mom, motivational speaker
On Thursday morning, the boot camp soldiers were seated behind tables with binders full of information spread out in front of them.
The GAVE participants were eager for even more exact information and inspiration from ordinary people who have succeeded in business.
Joyce Bone, author and an Atlanta-based entrepreneur, gave the group the straight talk and candid answers the servicemen and servicewomen were seeking.
“I came from the streets. I am more of a hustler,” Bone told the group.
At 28 years old, Bone was a stay-at-home mom who took a $10,000 risk and co-founded EarthCare, an environmental company that grew into a $125 million dollar NASDAQ-traded business.
Bone did admit during her speaking session Thursday at the time, in 1997, “there was money everywhere,” including access to bank loans.
Still, Bone said if a person knows his or her own worth in the market place, then “you can create your own life.”
“If you get really good at what you do, people will pay for it,” Bone said.
Knowing the fundamentals of business, Bone said, allowed her to “sweep into and sweep out of” multiple industries, including retail and real estate.
In 1991, Bone completed a bachelor of science degree in communications/marketing at KSU. In December 2012, she earned her MBA from the Coles College of Business. Now, her oldest of three sons, Griffin, is a freshman at KSU studying accounting.
Bone is the author of “Millionaire Moms — The Art of Raising a Business and a Family at the Same Time,” which complements her website, Millionaire moms.com.
While founding several businesses, Bone has focused on spearheading fundraising efforts. This is why many students at the GAVE boot camp had exact questions for Bone on how to raise money and approach investors.
Bone said not to be intimidated by someone with money and believe in the deal.
“People are more accessible than you think,” she said.
A successful pitch is about delivering a compelling message and making investors, who are looking for a reason to say no, feel important.
“People buy on emotion. They justify on logic,” Bone said.
Making connections, making money
Bone said she was naive at first, trusting the appearances of people who turned about to be bad business associates.
“Be careful who you get into partnership with,” she said.
Now, Bone said she focuses on a “circle of five” people, who she spends the most time with. Although every month, Bone said, she tries to meet someone out of her network who is at the next level she is trying to reach.
“Forget the homeboys, you have to set yourself high,” Bone said. “School is a great way to do that … It is by being out in the mix that you get to know people.”
Bone also told the students failure is inevitable, but entrepreneurs must take the lesson and learn from it.
“I call those skinned-knee moments,” she said. “When you do fail, reframe the failure.”
The job description of an entrepreneur includes constantly being tested, Bone said. So for 10 minutes a week she finds something uncomfortable that will help her grow.
“Right outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens,” she said.
After serving in active duty with the U.S. Army from 2003 to 2007, with deployments twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq, Brandon Skolnick, 30, of Kennesaw, is now in the Army Reserve. In 2010, Skolnick began studying International Affairs at KSU.
A growing cab company
Skolnick is also a partner in an all-veteran owned local cab company, Owl Cab, which started in September with two cars. It has now grown to nine vehicles, with four employees working dispatch and seven contract drivers serving the greater Kennesaw, Acworth and Woodstock area.
This past week, Skolnick said he was stretched to fit in his regular class load, the full-time hours of boot camp each day and his job.
“I am not sleeping,” he said. “My wife is a huge supporter of me going out and getting it.”
Skolnick said his business plan is “a little bit of a secret,” but is based on a product he saw in Rio de Janeiro while visiting his wife’s family in Brazil.
Through the GAVE boot camp, Skolnick said he wanted to learn how to bring a product to market, scale it to give the most profit and then sell the company to move on to the next venture.
“Passion is a moving target,” Skolnick said.
During Bone’s presentation Thursday, Skolnick asked how she picks certain business opportunities.
Bone admitted it is less about a passion than it is about the money.
“I was always the one who had to work,” she said. “I have always had bills to pay.”