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March 30, 2015

Sometimes a little push is all you need

Sometimes a little push is all you need

Written by: Mike Merwin

I’m a retired Navy veteran who served half my time as a nuclear submarine officer and the other half in Navy Reserve management, culminating with a job as Chief of Staff for a 2-star Admiral. You might expect my civilian job to be in upper management at a large consulting firm, but I saw a different future for myself. In beef jerky.

In 1994, a buddy bought me a food dehydrator in a BOGO deal while watching a late night infomercial. With a lot of experimentation, Crazy Mike’s Beef Jerky was born. The “Crazy” in Crazy Mike’s Beef Jerky was anointed by my friends due to my adventurous side and my extreme zest for life, sports, and never backing down from a challenge!

I use U.S. Department of Agriculture choice eye round beef marinated with my secret recipe of spices and then slow cook it to give it “real wood smoked” character.

I have always loved making things. It’s been my passion since I was a young boy working with my Dad in the garage. As soon as I was old enough to carry a hammer, he taught me that I could build anything I set my mind to. I truly believe the work ethic he taught me and the “never give up, underdog” mentality is what inspired me to pursue the life of an entrepreneur.

The 9th Annual Barnes Family Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), which is operated by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF), was just the push I needed to take my jerky business from passion to career. Prior to the program, I had registered my business with the county and forked over money for professional packaging. I had a basic website and a following of jerky aficionados who loved my product. But I was very far from getting a food manufacturing business off the ground that met all the legal food prep requirements.

I needed every class and guest presentation at EBV, and one that stood out was on bootstrapping taught by Dr. Mike Haynie, IVMF’s executive director and the Vice Chancellor of Veteran and Military Affairs at Syracuse University.

I had never heard that term before and throughout his presentation I discovered that I was already doing it. Dr. Haynie’s presentation showed me that I really could pursue my passion and dream and overcome that obstacle that so many face – startup costs.

EBV is not just a week and you’re done type of deal. I got my Masters of Business Administration 14 years ago, but my EBV experience has given me so much more long-lasting, real-world training. Presenters at EBV use everyday examples and have lived the entrepreneurship experience. After the classroom-based phase of EBV is over, we’re eligible for a year of mentoring assistance through the Technical Assistance Program.

It was also clear that the instructors, staff, and guest speakers genuinely care about us. After a presentation by a Vice President of Lockheed Martin, I sent an email with a question. He promptly emailed back with an answer and offered to help me if I ever needed anything in the future. I had hesitated emailing him because, well, he is the VP of Lockheed Martin and I figured he didn’t have time for me!

The EBV program I went through was a special pilot program with the National Hockey League Alumni Association. Two former professional hockey players, Clint Malarchuk and Michael Gaul, joined us on our EBV journey. I was honored to get to know two professional athletes on a personal basis. We all joked around with them and shared our life stories. We really got to know each other and quickly figured out that we had a lot in common.

I have always been in awe of professional athletes so this was very special for me. They were just as honored and humbled to be amidst military veterans that have served our country. They were actually a perfect fit and I think it was a great opportunity for both professional hockey players and disabled veterans to network and build relationships to help each other in our ventures.

EBV gave me that little push I needed… and so much more! With my new entrepreneurship knowledge, my new friends with common business visions, and my new mentoring network of successful entrepreneurs, I see myself taking Crazy Mike’s Beef Jerky Company to the next level.

I now have the confidence, the self-esteem and the comfort knowing that my fellow brothers and sisters in arms, civilians, and even professional athletes are cheering me on and rooting for my success, as I am for each and every one of them!

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