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Michael I. Kaplan author of “The Prior-Service Entrepreneur” conducted an interview with Project Opportunity Founder, Joe Giordano. The interview and article are used with permission and re-printed below.

Please feel free to connect with Michael I. Kaplan:

Phone: (912) 777-7500
Email: [email protected]

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The success of “Project Opportunity” is an excellent model for veteran programs everywhere.

The economic and employment outlook for the next 24 months looks rather uninspiring. Real unemployment is in the double-digits, the new jobs being created are less than appealing, and veterans entering the civilian labor market are going to find it increasingly difficult to compete for positions despite their extraordinary value.

Do you want to ignore that reality, complain about it or do something to address the issue that actually makes a difference? If you’re like Joe Giordano, Director of Project Opportunity, failure is not an option and actions always speak louder than words.

Joe developed Project Opportunity, a free entrepreneurship training program for veterans who wish to start a small business or expand their current small business as an alternative to traditional employment and in response to the high unemployment rate among the veteran population. Project Opportunity started on the Eastern Shore of Maryland of 2010 and has continued as an annual training program. Over the past few years it has expanded to Annapolis, Columbia, Glen Burnie, and Southern Maryland.

I had the pleasure of connecting with Joe in a professional capacity and becoming familiar with his work with aspiring veteran entrepreneurs. I was truly impressed with the programs’ mission, its successful outcomes and the ease of which the program can be replicated on state and national levels.

Those who know me understand that when I get excited about a program that’s helping veterans to succeed and prosper, I have to share that with the world. I had the opportunity to sit down with Joe Giordano recently and ask him a few questions about his program. His thoughtful answers should serve as a model for veteran entrepreneurship programs in every state in America.

Michael: What inspired you to develop Project Opportunity, and what do you hope to accomplish in the next 24 months?

Joe: Project Opportunity was developed to offer veterans an alternative to traditional employment and to assist in the high unemployment rate among veterans in 2010. Over the next 24 months I hope to be able to expand the program to other areas of Maryland, we currently have 115 veterans on the waiting list for future classes. I also am working on developing a stronger mentorship program for those who have completed the course.

Michael: At a time when the majority of Veteran Service Organizations are focused on getting veterans hired into conventional jobs, why did Project Opportunity choose to focus on entrepreneurial small business?

Joe: It just made sense. Veterans are excellent candidates for entrepreneurship because they already possess the four most important traits of successful small business owners: Self Discipline, Motivation, Problem Solving Skills, and the Ability to Multitask.

Michael: How long is the training program and what can veterans expect to take away from the course?

Joe: The course is 30 hours of classroom (3 hours a week for 10 weeks) utilizing the NxLevel Business Plan Basic curriculum. Each week there is approximately 20 hours of outside work (reading assignments, homework assignments, and research for business plan material). Each veteran should walk away with the knowledge and resources necessary to complete their business plan and be able to move forward to the next step in their business venture.

Michael: Once a veteran has completed the Project Opportunity training program, what type of support network do they have to give them the best chance for success?

Joe: The primary support network is for the veterans to maintain contact with myself and their course instructor. Additionally, resources introduced during the course such as SBTDC, SCORE, local bankers and marketing experts, and micro lending agencies and organizations serve as excellent support as they move forward with the business venture.

Michael: How many veterans are currently taking advantage of project opportunity, and what’s the graduation rate for those who choose to attend?

Joe: There have been a total of eleven classes with 114 veterans accepted and 96 who have completed the course, giving us a graduation rate of 84%. Reasons for not completing the course include relocation, medical issues, realization that the business concept not feasible, and not being able to commit time to course due to work conflicts.

Michael: In addition to the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship and the Walmart Foundation, what other supporters does Project Opportunity partner with to be able to offer this free program to veteran entrepreneurs?

Joe: We partner with the Annapolis Economic Development Corporation, the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation, the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, the Tri County Council of Southern Maryland, the Lower Shore Workforce Alliance, TEDCO, Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, SCORE, SBA Baltimore District Office, local Maryland Department of Labor and Regulation Veterans Employment Representatives, local VA Vocational Rehabilitation Office, and the Small Business Technology and Development Center Offices.

Michael: In addition to business professionals from the private sector who serve as lecturers and mentors, how else does the community support your vision, mission and goals?

Joe: We have formed partnerships with regional government economic development agencies which have been an outstanding source of support, from offering classrooms for our courses to working with program graduates to assist them in launching their business ventures. Any time we approach an individual from the private sector or a public sector agency for assistance the response is always enthusiastic and a commitment is made almost immediately to provide the subject matter expertise and technical assistance necessary to be able to offer the veteran participants the best entrepreneurial education possible.

America’s veteran wage earners – a noble and good-hearted group of well-meaning individuals – are worried about claiming their “piece of the pie.” They work hard for it and they’re taking every step possible to protect it. That’s totally understandable. Good jobs are hard to come by in today’s economy and even harder to keep.

While they’re busy doing that, however, veteran entrepreneurs graduating from the Project Opportunity training program in Maryland are making more pies. We need more veterans with entrepreneurial mindsets to get involved who understand we don’t need to fiercely protect smaller pieces of an increasingly shrinking pie.

We need more pies, and only entrepreneurs can make that happen.

Most of us know that our military veterans are uniquely suited to that task. I encourage everyone to connect with Joe Giordano and learn more about Project Opportunity and the entrepreneurial spirit that is allowing our veterans in Maryland to become so successful.