2011 was the second year that Project Opportunity was conducted. It is a free eleven week entrepreneurship training program that meets one night a week for three hours and is 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. Additionally they needed to commit a minimum of nine (9) hours per week to attend class, complete reading and homework assignments, and work on the development of their business plan.
Stage 1 was to schedule and conduct two outreach and educational orientation sessions, which were held in 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 eighteen (18) veterans attended these two sessions and seventeen (17) 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 those 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 ten week “Business Plan Bootcamp” course. A total of seventeen (17) veterans participated in this assessment process and based on the results and a follow up telephone conversation a total of fifteen (15) were selected to move on to Stage 3, the eleven (11) week training program. After the selection one individual withdraw due to conflicts with his work schedule and a second was unable to participate as he moved to the Philadelphia area to attend a trade school.
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.
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 – Where is the Cash and Managing Money
- Week 5 – Financial Tips and Tools
- Week 6 – Networking and Selling Success
- Week 7 – Business Entities, Accounting Practices, and Government Oversight
- Week 8 – Management
- Week 9 – Websites and Social Media
- Week 10 – Procurement 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. Guest speaker participation was as follows:
- Week 1 – Representative of SBDC discussed services available to program participants
- Week 2 – Representative of SBDC discussed marketing plan research
- Week 3 – 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 4 –Local business banker discussed cash flow analysis
- Week 5 – Local business banker discussed 5 C”s of credit and business loan applications and procedures
- Week 6 – Chamber of Commerce Director discussed selling strategies and networking
- Week 7 – Lawyer and accountant discussed different forms of incorporation with the pros and cons for each
- Week 8 – Representative from TEDCO discussed agency and loan/grant opportunitie4s available to small businesses in rural areas.
- Week 9 – Veteran owner of small web design firm discussed social networking and E-Commerce. Local insurance producer discussed various types of commercial insurances
- Week 10 – Veteran small business owner discussed state and federal contracting opportunities for veteran owned business as well as corporate supplier diversity programs. Federal contracting program manager discussed how to identify opportunities and sell yourself to federal procurement decision makers.
Twice during the program subject matter experts came in to meet with the participants and review their individual business plans. The first review was for the Marketing Plan portion and a representative from the SBDC and a small business owner of a local marketing and PR company joined the instructional staff in a constructive review of each plan. The second review was for the Financial Plan portion and subject matter experts from the Bank of America and local SCORE Chapter joined the instructional staff in a constructive review of each plan.
The last week of the program consists of the Graduation Ceremony. Each participant is required to give a three (3) minute summary of their business plan and answer any questions from the audience. Veterans are encouraged to invite family and friends to attend and join local donors and guest speakers in the celebration. The event is capped off with a catered meal for all in attendance. This year we were honored to have Secretary Edward Chow, Jr., from the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs be the guest speaker for the event.
Thirteen veterans were selected to participate in the Business Plan Bootcamp and eleven completed the entire program. One individual withdraw after four (4) classes due to personal reasons and another withdraw after five (5) classes due to business related obligations but the remaining eleven 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:
- Lawn Maintenance and Snow Removal
- Website Design and Maintenance
- Website Design, Graphic Design, and Logo Design
- Property and Lawn Maintenance
- Living Assisted Facility
- IT Consulting
- Mobile Marine Repair
- Non Profit Community Center
- Non Profit Boys Basketball and Life Skills Program
- Internet Advertising and Veteran Assistance Center
Follow up status checks on all participants will be conducted at the end of February and early March 2012 to determine the status of their businesses at that time.