By AJ Florkowski, EBV National Program Director
For me, four months on the job as the new National Program Director of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) – a program of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF) – has been a moving experience.
On July 25, twenty-one disabled veterans from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps converged at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University to attend Phase II of the 10th Barnes Family EBV program in order to learn the ins and outs of business ownership, and to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. The IVMF welcomed 21 veterans with 21 distinctly different stories and 21 distinctly different versions of the same dream – business ownership. My charge, and the charge of the EBV program, was to provide them with the knowledge and tools they will need to succeed.
So who are these 21 American Heroes? And what are their dreams and goals; why were they here? Despite all of the EBV participants sharing relatively common backgrounds of service, every story is interesting and unique. I will follow “military tradition” and share these stories alphabetically.
Brandon B. spent a few years in the Marines, after a brief stint of fame on the TV series “Survivor.” Although his acting days are behind him, the confidence behind his warm smile and firm handshake leave no doubt that he will succeed in his next adventure in life, which is focused on opening and growing his micro-brewery in Kansas.
Speaking of confidence, this leads me to Todd C. Todd hails from the City of Brotherly Love – Philly, PA – and owns a company that is focusing on government contracting in the IT security realm. Retiring from the Navy, as a Chief Petty Officer, Todd is a well-spoken individual with a self-assured calmness that just emanates from him.
From Keller, TX just north of Dallas-Fort Worth, we met Adam D., a former Army Medical Officer and West Point grad. Adam’s deeply vested interest in the medical service field has led him to pursue a company that develops innovations to medical safety equipment.
A retired Navy Master Chief, Joseph E. joined us from Fairfax, VA, where he is developing an up-and-coming concierge service. If Joseph’s friendly demeanor, warm voice, and charming smile don’t pull you in, his 90-second elevator pitch will. He is clearly your “25th hour”!
Dog lover and former Navy Lieutenant Josh E. made his way to us out of Alexandria, VA, just a stone’s throw from Joseph. Josh is working to run a business that cares for dogs while the owners are away, and aims to go above and beyond your standard kennel care. Josh’s sharp wit and keen business sense are sure to aid in his inevitable success.
The kind and gentle former Army Engineer Officer, David F., of Kentucky, who decided to hang up his combat boots and demo charges for a rake and hoe. David aims to start an organic farm in Ohio and enjoy a simpler life with his family.
Wayne G. is a career firefighter from New England and retired Senior Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer. He aims to create an indoor safety playground for children. His dream involves introducing safety education to kids in a fun and playful environment. His management skills, developed in the Air Force, coupled with his lifetime of firefighter experience undoubtedly set him up for success.
Soft spoken and quiet, Teresa G. is a former Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer out of Sparta, GA, who is in the process of opening a fashion boutique. But don’t let her quiet demeanor fool you – there is a business savvy beast hidden inside her! Who says you can’t be a warrior and look good too?
Out of the Chicago area, we had the pleasure of meeting Henry H., who left the Air Force as a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer, and is working at building a business of men’s clothing accessories. Due to a pending patent, Henry was not able to disclose the specifics of this accessory but we all hope to hear about it soon!
Thoughtful and sincere with a heart of gold, Christina K., a retired Air Force Officer is working to make a difference in the St. Louis, MO community. We have no doubt that Chris, who was clearly moved by her EBV experience, will bring the people of St. Louis closer together.
Born and raised in the Ukraine, Oleksiy K. spent several years in the U.S. Navy traveling the world protecting the freedoms and liberties that most of us take for granted. Oleksiy landed in Rego Park, NY after leaving the Navy and now hopes to re-invigorate one of the oldest ways of doing business – the barter system. His dream involves allowing the corporate sector to do larger-scale business deals utilizing a barter system for services and goods, similar to the system found in marketplaces throughout the world today.
Seeking to level the playing field in the area of engineering, education and job opportunities for girls, Ricky L. is aiming to start a summer camp for girls where they will get the life skills, educational tools, and encouragement they need in order to pursue their engineering dreams. Serving for several years in the Marine Corps, Ricky now calls Columbus, OH his home. A father of two girls myself, I sincerely understand and appreciate his efforts!
Departing the Army as a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer, Patrick M. now lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where he is working to get Veteran Safety Supply LLC off the ground. His company will provide broad-scope and full-service safety equipment and supplies to industrial, manufacturing, construction, and governmental entities. It is encouraging to see years of Army safety training being put to good use!
Trading in his Army ruck and combat boots for a briefcase and business shoes, Alonzo M. now lives in the Edgewood, MD area, and has his eyes set on government contracting opportunities that permeates the environment all around him.
Of similar mindset is former Airman Jason M., out of Aberdeen, MD. Jason envisions using his veteran status and management skills to serve the government as a primary contractor on a host of government contract opportunities.
The only current resident of Syracuse in the program this time around is former Navy Sailor Dan P., who is also an undergraduate student at Syracuse University. In addition to his student status, Dan also works part-time for the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). Recently married, Dan is working towards his degree in Exercise Science and hopes to open his own Cross-Fit gym here in the Syracuse Area in partnership with wife.
Anyone who laid eyes on Dennis S. could see plain as day that they were looking at an Army Ranger. But this is not just any Army Ranger; Dennis served for more than 26 years and concluded his military career as the Command Sergeant Major of Ranger School at Fort Benning, GA. Dennis now owns and manages a fitness center near Fort Benning that continues to serve the Fort Benning soldiers and the local community.
Winning our “furthest traveler” award, former Marine David S. began his adventure to Syracuse out of Tiller, Norway. Chasing his heart – which in turn was chasing a girl – David calls Norway home these days. Working for a very small Norwegian software company, David is seeking ways to increase his company’s profitability and performance in the European market while simultaneously looking for any possible entry points into U.S. markets.
Quiet and focused, Manya T. decided to use his veteran status earned while serving with the Marine Corps to pursue work as a government prime contractor with a focus on government IT contracts. Living in Abingdon, MD now, Manya finds himself in a prime location, ripe with opportunity.
Former Arizona State defensive lineman and Navy veteran, Michael T. finds himself at Old Dominion University now, heavily involved in veteran activities in the Virginia Beach community. Outgoing and confident would grossly under-define Mike’s personality. Mike loves living on the edge of political correctness and one could easily be caught smiling and shaking their head when listening to Mike speak. Mike’s current venture involves providing affordable housing to veterans attending ODU and based on his personality, I have no doubt he will be successful.
This brings us to our final student from our latest EBV program: Chris W. A Navy veteran who aspires to open a bed & breakfast in the Cayman Islands, Chris apparently only wears shorts and T-shirts now as the weather is mild to warm year round down there. Good thing he wasn’t here in March!
All in all, meeting and interacting with the veterans in this program completely validated my reasons for making the transition over to the IVMF team. To be a part of helping these 21 veterans – these 21 heroes – achieve their business goals and entrepreneurial dreams is simply amazing. The return on the investment for me personally is immeasurable. The brief words that I used here hardly do justice at capturing their true essence, but they are out there doing great and wonderful things, serving their communities, after serving their country.
About the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV)
The EBV National Program is a novel, one-of-a-kind initiative designed to leverage the skills, resources and infrastructure of higher education to offer cutting-edge, experiential training in entrepreneurship and small business management to post-9/11 veterans and their families. The EBV program was launched at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management in 2007. Since the original class, the IVMF has expanded EBV to nine additional universities throughout the United States. Assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), corporate partners and donors allows post-9/11 veterans and transitioning service members with service-connected disabilities to attend the program cost-free.
About the Author:
A.J. Florkowski is the National Program Director of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF). A U.S. Army veteran, Florkowski served as an engineer officer for over 11 years on active duty before transitioning to the U.S. Army Reserves in 2010 where he continues to serve as the Training & Operations Officer for the 3-309th CS/CSS Battalion, a Syracuse-based U.S. Army Reserve unit.
Florkowski holds a bachelor’s degree in geopolitics with a minor in systems engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and a master’s degree in geology from the University of Missouri at Rolla.