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May 16, 2013

Are You a Veteran with a Hospitality Business in your Future? Listen Up.

Are You a Veteran with a Hospitality Business in your Future? Listen Up.

Written by: Mike Haynie, IVMF Executive Director and Founder

As a young Air Force lieutenant, I was assigned as a procurement officer at a place called Defense Supply Center Richmond, in Richmond VA.  One of my first jobs DSC Richmond was to direct a procurement team responsible for – among other things – the acquisition of food service equipment for the Department of Defense.  It wasn’t a glamorous job, but it did have its benefits.

One of those benefits was the opportunity to attend an annual event held at nearby Fort Lee, where the Army’s most talented military food service personnel came together to compete for “Top Chef” honors across a host of different categories (desserts was my favorite).  I’m not sure what I expected from this event, but what I found was over the top; that is, it was one of my first lessons related to the diverse and extraordinary talents representative of those men and women who serve the nation in uniform.  Importantly, it wasn’t just about the “chefs” and the food, but it was about the entire team of foodservice professionals that came together to deliver a world-class experience worthy of any 5-star restaurant.

We talk all the time of how military skills and experiences do – or do not – translate to civilian life.  In the case of foodservice and hospitality professions, military skills translate almost directly.  This is why, for example, we see many veterans pursuing careers in this industry.   Importantly, it’s not just that veterans are seeking jobs in this industry, but we’re also witnessing a significant number of veterans pursuing business ownership opportunities in hospitality, event management, and foodservice.  This is an exciting trend, but also worthy of a word of caution.

As a new business, restaurants and hospitality ventures are a risky proposition.  Typically they require significant upfront capital investment, and specialized training.  This is not to say such ventures aren’t worth pursuing, but it is to say that you must do so with caution.  Success depends on a strong understanding of the industry, and a competitive advantage that is both novel and sustainable.  Further, it’s essential that you establish and nurture a network of industry insiders, and seek out opportunities for specialized training focused on the unique aspects of a hospitality venture.  All this leads me to the opportunity I’d like to highlight.

For those veterans that dream of business ownership in the hospitality industry, listen up!

In 2007, Syracuse University launched a program called the ‘Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities’ (EBV).  The EBV was created as an initiative designed to leverage higher education to provide world-class training in entrepreneurship and small business management to our post-9/11 veterans.  Over the course of the last 6 years, more than 650 veterans have completed the EBV program.  At the same time the program has expanded to a truly national initiative through the collaborative efforts of seven other world-class institutions that today offer the program, including UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, Florida State University’s College of Business, the Mays School of Business at Texas A&M University, the Krannert School at Purdue University, the E.J Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University, and the College of Business at the University of Connecticut.  The EBV program is privately funded,  offered without any cost to participating veterans (to include travel and lodging), and last year INC Magazine named the EBV one of the 10-best entrepreneurship training programs in all of the U.S.

So how does all this relate to hospitality?

Last year the EBV added its newest partner school – Cornell University – as our first “EBV Specialty School.”  What does that mean?  Specifically, our partnership with Cornell University’s Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at The School of Hotel Administration, which is universally acknowledged as the #1 ranked school of hospitality in the world.  The team at the Pillsbury Institute is without equal, and they’ve made a commitment to support and empower those veterans who desire to launch and grow business in the hospitality industry.  The first class of veterans participating in the Cornell EBV pilot program graduated last summer, and they’re well on their way to realizing the American Dream of business ownership in the hospitality industry.  Alex van Breukelen was one of those graduates.

Alex van Breukelen is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, and is the founder/owner of the The Americana bar and restaurant in Baltimore.  While before EBV has was already managing budgets, marketing plans, human resources, there was still a lot he didn’t understand about growing a hospitality venture. “There were so many different aspects of restaurant management and entrepreneurship that I just didn’t know I was missing,” said the 13-year military veteran.

Through the Cornell University EBV program, van Breukelen gained the skills he needed to build a successful business.  “If I had known two years ago what I have learned [at EBV], I would be leaps and bounds ahead of where I am right now,” said van Breukelen.  As an added befit of the EBV program, Alex went on to win $5,000 at the EBV National Business Plan and Pitch Competition [held each year for EBV graduates], as the best venture impacting veterans.

Are you a veteran with dreams like Alex?  My advice is to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity afforded by the team at Cornell University’s Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship.  Applications for the Cornell EBV programs, as well as the EBV program offerings at the other EBV universities – are now open and are being accepted for spring, summer, and fall of 2013.  More information is available at, or contact the EBV National program Manager Jared Lyon directly at

Success as a business owner has everything to do with acting on opportunity, and the EBV program is one you don’t want to pass up.

Mike Haynie, Ph.D., is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, the executive director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF), and the Barnes Professor of Entrepreneurship at SU’s Whitman School of Management.


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