Project Opportunity is a free entrepreneurship training program designed solely for veterans who want to start their own business. The pre-requisite for veterans who wished to be considered to participate was that they had to have a solid idea of what business venture they wanted to start because the course is designed to develop and complete a business plan instead of just exploring the possibility of entrepreneurship.
Stage 1 was to schedule and conduct three outreach and educational orientation sessions, which were held in Crisfield, Easton, and Salisbury. These two hour workshops were titled “Exploring Entrepreneurship” and included a discussion of why the individuals wanted to start their own small businesses, characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and completion of a self-assessment exercise. These sessions gave veterans aspiring to become entrepreneur’s information and resources needed to make an informed decision as to whether entrepreneurship is right for them. Lastly, the importance of a business plan and its components were discussed. A total of thirty four (34) veterans attended these three sessions and twenty six (26) of those in attendance indicated a desire to move forward to Stage 2.
Stage 2 was the conduct of a telephonic screening assessment to identify the sixteen (16) veterans with characteristics that would make them good candidates to complete the training and move on to actually starting their own business. If after attending the “Exploring Entrepreneurship” workshop, the participants decide that they would like to continue in the process, they will be asked to participate in an assessment session. This session will take approximately one hour to complete. During the assessment exercise, individuals will be asked a series of questions to determine if they would be a good fit to move on to the next stage in the process. Sample questions will be: describe your business idea, why do you want to go into business, what experience do you have in the business you plan to start, who will buy your products and services and how will you attract these customers, how much money will you need to start/expand your business and where will you get it, when do you plan to start your business, what will be the biggest challenge in starting your business, what are your personal strengths that will contribute to being successful in your business, will you be able to commit to meeting one night a week to complete the eleven week “Business Plan Bootcamp” course. A total of twenty six (26) veterans participated in this assessment process and based on the results and a follow up telephone conversation a total of sixteen (16) were selected to move on to Stage 3, the 11 week training program.
The third and final stage is an eleven week course entitled “Business Plan Bootcamp.” This course will help the veterans selected through the above process prepare a “bank ready” business plan.
Maryland Capital Enterprises was selected as a subcontractor to provide the instruction for the course as well as offer business counseling to participants during and after the completion of the eleven weeks. The NxLevel Business Plan Basics Guide for Micro-Entrepreneurs textbook and accompanying training materials was used. The course outline was as follows:
- Week 1 – Assessing Your Business Idea and Business Planning
- Week 2 – The Marketing Plan and Marketing Analysis
- Week 3 – Product, Price, Placement, and Promotion
- Week 4 – E-Commerce
- Week 5 – Selling Success
- Week 6 – Business Entities, Accounting Practices, and Government Oversight
- Week 7 – Management
- Week 8 – Where is the Cash and Managing Money
- Week 9 – Financial Tips and Tools
- Week 10 – Overview of Opportunities Available to Veteran Owned Businesses
- Week 11 – Presentation of Business Concept and Graduation Ceremony
Each week a guest speaker presented additional information and subject matter expertise to the class. The Salisbury Rotary Club provided many of the guest speakers for the programs. Guest speaker participation was as follows:
- Week 1 – Regional Director of Maryland Division of Rehabilitation Services discussed business grants and loans available to disabled veteran business owners and the process for applying for them
- Week 2 – Owner of local marketing firm discussed identifying potential market for your product and/or services
- Week 3 – Owner of local marketing firm discussed the 4 P’s of marketing
- Week 4 – Veteran owner of small web design firm discussed social networking and E-Commerce
- Week 5 – Veteran co-owner of public relations firm discussed selling strategies and networking
- Week 6 – Lawyer and accountant discussed different forms of incorporation with the pros and cons for each
- Week 7 – Local insurance producer discussed various types of commercial insurances
- Week 8 – Representative of SBDC discussed cash flow analysis
- Week 9 – Local bankers discussed 4 C’s of credit and business loan applications and procedures
- Week 10 – Veteran small business owner discussed state and federal contracting opportunities for veteran owned business as well as corporate supplier diversity programs. Representative from SBA discussed Patriot Loan and other SBA programs available to small business owners
Three times during the program subject matter experts came in to meet with the participants and review their business plans. The first review was for the Marketing Plan portion, the second review was for he Operations Plan portion, and the third review was for the Financial Plan portion. Subject matter experts were from the Small Business Development Center, Maryland Capital Enterprises, M&T Bank, BB&T Bank, and veteran small business owners from the Salisbury Rotary Club.
Sixteen veterans were selected to participate in the Business Plan Bootcamp. One individual relocated prior to the start of classes, one individual relocated after the start of classes, and another individual had to withdraw due to medical conditions but the remaining thirteen completed the program and were given NxLevel Course Completion Certificates at the Graduation Ceremony.
Here is a listing of current and anticipated business ventures for the participants:
- Private Investigator
- Shoes and Sneakers sales
- Dog Breeding
- Athletic Apparel
- Watercraft rescue vehicle production (patented)
- Computer Repair
- Sign Business
- Jazz Lounge
- Small Restaurant
- Fabrication Shop
Follow up status checks on all participants will be conducted at the end of February 2011 and again at the end of June 2011.
Discussions will be held in January 2011 with the Salisbury Rotary Club and District Rotary Club officials about partnering to expand and conduct Project Opportunity 2011 starting in September 2011. Maryland Capital Enterprises has agreed to again provide course instruction and business counseling.
February 2011 follow up status checks revealed the following from program participants:
- Private Investigator – Started business in October 2010 as a LLC with projected gross sales for 2011 of $25,000.00
- Shoes and Sneakers Sales – Continued to operate and expand sole proprietorship. Anticipates creating one job in next 12 months with projected gross sales for 2011 of $6,000.00 to $10,000.00
- Dog Breeding – In process of expanding business that was started in June 2008 as a sole proprietorship. Will be closing on new property purchase in April 2011. Projected gross sales of $60,000.00 for 2011. Had some follow up contact with M&T Bank and plans on working with the Small Business Development Center for a SBA Patriot Express Loan in the future.
- Athletic Apparel – Expansion of business (sole proprietorship). Have hired 3 part time commission based sales reps to date and anticipates hiring another up to 100 in next 12 months.
- Watercraft rescue vehicle – Continues to operate LLC, product still in development after being granted patent, seeking investor’s capital.
- Computer Repair – Completed business plan but decided to delay start up. Accepted IT related position with Lockheed Martin to gain additional experience and financial stability.
- Trucking – Business plan completed, in process of starting LLC. Currently waiting for gasoline prices to stabilize before purchasing vehicle.