Highlights of an Entrepreneurial Education: Boots to Business
Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
(This is one of a series of posts relating to entrepreneurship. Check back weekly for observations on a variety of employment and self-employment topics.)
For many of us, transitioning from the military to the next phase of our lives – going “back on the block”, if you will – consisted of nothing more than getting our hands on a set of clearing papers and looking for signatures, so we could get our final orders for Fort Living Room. In 1993, the first time I left active duty, I was offered some help on putting together a resume and shown how to sort through some arcane database of open jobs…but that was about all, and that was about all I wanted.
The next time I found myself clearing an active duty installation was about 15 years later, and to be sure, there were more opportunities available to help me successfully transition. There was more hardware, more software, and more subject-matter experts to help me navigate my options, but it was still optional and mostly centered around getting help finding a job.
One of the best things the Department of Defense has done for transitioning service members recently, though, was to make the core transition workshop mandatory and add some additional tracks to augment the experience. One of those tracks is a course on entrepreneurship called Boots to Business (B2B).
Boots to Business is an entrepreneurial education and training program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as part of the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP). The two-day course, titled “Introduction to Entrepreneurship”, is held at over 180 military installations worldwide and provides an overview of the subject. Active Duty service members (including National Guard and Reserve), veterans, and spouses are eligible to participate. Boots to Business Reboot is a version of the original workshop that takes the event off the military installation and extends access to veterans of all eras. There is no cost to participate, and those that have successfully completed either course are eligible for follow-on Boots to Business courses that cover a variety of topics.
“Introduction to Entrepreneurship” is a TAP training track for those interested in learning more about the opportunities and challenges of business ownership and it’s the foundational piece of the larger Boots to Business (B2B) program. Participants are introduced to the skills, knowledge, and resources they need to launch a business, including steps for developing business concepts and a business plan, and information on SBA resources available to help. Participants learn business fundamentals and techniques for evaluating the feasibility of their business concepts and are introduced to a broad spectrum of entrepreneurial concepts and the resources available to access start-up capital, technical assistance, contracting opportunities, and more. Subject matter experts from the SBA and its network of partners and skilled business advisors teach the course.
Those partners and business advisors are what makes this event so valuable. While there is some variance from installation to installation, there are a few key organizations that help facilitate the workshop across the country. Those groups include the Veterans Business Outreach Centers, America’s SBDC, SCORE, the Association of Women’s Business Centers, and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.
Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) provide entrepreneurial development services such as business training, counseling, and resource partner referrals to transitioning service members, veterans, members of the National Guard & Reserve, and military spouses interested in starting or growing a small business. There are 22 organizations participating in this cooperative agreement with the SBA that have the VBOC mission.
Small Business Development Centers (America’s SBDCs) are hosted by leading universities, colleges, state economic development agencies, and private sector partners. There are nearly 1,000 local centers available to provide no-cost business consulting and low-cost training to new and existing businesses. on topics that include business planning, accessing capital, marketing, regulatory compliance, technology development, international trade and much more.
SCORE. A nonprofit association of thousands of volunteer business counselors throughout the U.S. and its territories, SCORE members are trained to serve as counselors, advisors, and mentors to aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners. SCORE is the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors, with more than 10,000 volunteers in 300 chapters.
Women’s Business Centers (WBCs). WBCs work to secure entrepreneurial opportunities for women by supporting and sustaining a national network of more than 100 Women’s Business Centers. WBCs help women succeed in business by providing training, mentoring, business development, and financing opportunities to over 145,000 women entrepreneurs each year.
Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). Located at Syracuse University, IVMF is higher education’s first interdisciplinary academic institute, singularly focused on advancing the lives of the nation’s military veterans and their families.
Personally, I think it’s a great benefit that the Department of Defense, the Small Business Administration, and those resource partners have put together for those of us in the military community. I may be a bit biased, however, because over the last 5 years I helped facilitate over 150 Boots to Business workshops across 7 different military installations in 5 states. I’ve spoken with hundreds of folks considering their entrepreneurial options and witnessed plenty of “a-ha” moments. I’ve also seen more than a few come to the realization that ‘small business ownership’ wasn’t for them.
In my opinion, as both a Soldier that has recently transitioned and as a professional facilitator, the Boots to Business workshop is a great course that offers a birds-eye view of some of the key elements of small business ownership. In pretty short order, most participants will figure out if entrepreneurship is something that could be right for them and they’ll know where to turn for more information.
Perhaps you find yourself pining for the day when you can open your own business. Or you and your spouse are already knee-deep in running a successful enterprise, but you’re ready to connect to resources that might help you take it to the next level. Or maybe you just might officially rule out the option of being self-employed, but want it to be an educated decision. For whichever reason, Boots to Business is a good starting point and will likely be a good use of your time.
If you’re still actively serving, contact the transition office at your closest military installation for more information. If you don’t have access to an installation or aren’t close to one, you can visit the program’s website at https://sbavets.force.com/s/. For technical support and registration questions, contact the Boots to Business Help Desk by emailing Boots-to-Business@sba.gov/ or by calling (202) 205-VET1 or (844) 610-VET1. Good luck with your journey!
Do you have any experiences you’d like to share about your military-to-civilian transition? Anything that might benefit others in our military community, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email Kris@militaryconnection.com!