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– Originally posted on November 24th, 2013 by SHANTEÉ WOODARDS for the Capital Gazette. You can read the original article here.

Tim Longmire wants to start a business that eventually provides 24-hour grooming and other services to dogs.

First, he needs a storefront. And financing. And a bunch of other things he wasn’t sure about until he entered Project Opportunity. The Navy veteran is part of the first Annapolis group to be involved in a 10-week program that teaches veterans how to become entrepreneurs. As a result, he and his wife plan to move forward with Bark, Bathe, Board & Beyond by 2015 at the latest.

“(The program) had very knowledgeable people in the field and you could ask them anything you wanted. You didn’t have to sit on the phone,” said Longmire, an Arnold resident who was once stationed at Pearl Harbor. He added that he thinks his military training prepared him for the entrepreneurial lifestyle.

“One of the key things that was always beaten in my head is details, details, details. You’ve got to pay attention to details and you’ve got to adapt.”

In 2010, Consulting, Training, and Development Services launched Project OpportunitySM as a way to help veterans who wanted to start a business on the Eastern Shore. Since then, 26 have completed the program.

This year, the Annapolis Economic Development Corp. partnered with Consulting, Training, and Development Services and the state Technology Development Corp. to offer the free program locally. Eighty veterans applied and that was later whittled down to the 11 who completed the courses. Two more events are being planned in the county, and they will launch in the winter and spring.

Statistics show that veteran-owned firms have annual sales of $1.2 trillion, nearly 6 million employees and a payroll of about $210 billion. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2012 report on veteran-owned firms found that veterans represented 9 percent of all companies in the country in 2007, the latest statistics available. That included roughly 54,000 firms in Maryland with $25 million in sales, according to the report.

At last week’s graduation ceremony at Loews Annapolis, Project OpportunitySM veterans were encouraged to look to Marine Maj. Rob Dyer for inspiration.

The Annapolis resident launched RuckPack — a vitamin and energy shot — with his military friends. After a series of challenges, he landed on ABC’s Shark Tank last year. He gained a $150,000 deal with Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec getting a 20 percent stake in the company.

Since then, the company has made $500,000 and has signed a national deal with Walgreens.

Still, his sleepless nights have not ended, and he encouraged Project OpportunitySM participants not to give up their day jobs immediately. He continues to teach at the Naval Academy.

“You stay flexible and you grind. You grind like nobody else can because nobody else knows what veteran life is like,” said Dyer, who was the keynote speaker at Project Opportunity’s graduation ceremony.

“If somebody says ‘Man, this is tough,’ this isn’t boot camp tough. … It’s not that bad. I didn’t even get shot at today, yet. When that becomes your fallback matrix, you figure out you can do anything.”

Brenda Dilts led the Project OpportunitySM sessions, which were held on Tuesday evenings at Maryland Hall. Each night included a guest speaker, as well as information on marketing, financing and management. The goal was to get participants to apply what they learned to their own business plan.

Their final project was to whittle their goals down to a three- to five-minute pitch speech, which they delivered at the graduation ceremony. In front of family and friends, they pitched plans that included nanny services, cellular phones, technical consultation and diabetes research.

Navy veteran Jimmie Bell’s signature phrase “Fluck It” is being sold on T-shirts, jackets and other apparel through his website. He aims to use it to encourage positive thinking among teenagers and other young people.

“My message to them is ‘fluck it,’?” Bell said in his pitch speech. “You control your destiny. You control what happens to you. If you want to do something, say you’re going to do it. Put the ball in motion and start making it happen. Fluck it, no matter what somebody tells you.”

Project OpportunitySM - Logo

– Originally posted on August 11th, 2013 by SHANTEÉ WOODARDS for the Capital Gazette. You can read the original article here.

There was a time when post-traumatic stress disorder limited Tracy Hoover’s speech and mobility.

But the retired U.S. Air Force veteran slowly turned his life around and is now co-owner of an Edgewater auto repair shop. His work at Premier Collision & Customs is a stress reliever, but he realizes veterans need a variety of services ranging from healthcare to job training.

So he is in the early stages of creating a veterans transition center to link them to those services. Many veterans join the armed services as young as 18 and return home with limited training, he said.

“They come back and they don’t know what to do — they never had to interview for a job and in some cases they don’t have the skills to transfer back to their civilian lives,” said Hoover, who retired from the U.S. Air Force and helped launch Premiere Collision & Customs. “There has got to be somebody who grabs the hand of the veteran and walks them through the process.”

There are also veterans who want to launch their own businesses, and that is a network the Annapolis Economic Development Corp. hopes to attract in its newest effort. The organization is partnering with Consulting, Training, and Development Services and the state Technology Development Corp. to provide a 10-week program to veterans who want to be entrepreneurs.

Called Project OpportunitySM, the evening classes will be held at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts through November. Eighty veterans wanted to sign up for the program, so a second session will be offered in the spring.

“We knew there were a number of veterans in the Annapolis area, we just weren’t sure how many wanted to be entrepreneurs,” AEDC CEO Lara Fritts said. “The great thing about veterans is that we know that they’re hard working and they have an amazing work ethic.”

Statistics show the unemployment rate for post-Sept. 11 veterans declined to just under 10 percent last year. Those figures vary based on where they were stationed and the type of service.

Recent veterans who were in the National Guard or Reserves had an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent in August 2012, compared to 13.7 percent for those who were not members.

Those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan or both had an unemployment rate just under 11 percent, while those who served elsewhere had a rate of 11.3 percent in August 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With Project OpportunitySM, participants will have weekly sessions that teach them about developing marketing plans, funding, networking and social media. The plan is for them to start out with their own business plans and fine tune them over the course of the program.

By their completion in November, they will be able to move onto the next stages of launching their venture.

“Hopefully this will translate into new business for the good ole City of Annapolis. As pleased as we are to do this, there is a selfish motive,” said Bob Sammis, Jr., the AEDC business recruitment, retention and expansion coordinator. “At the end of the day you need the same stuff — you need the business plan, funding, some sense of motivation — and all of those things have to fall into place regardless of if you’re a vet or not. But there may be some subtle differences (from other entrepreneurs).”

For more information about the AEDC’s Project OpportunitySM program, call 410-280-2712