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Faculty help disabled vets become successful entrepreneurs

In the vernacular of the Anderson School of Management, they are vetrepreneurs, determined people like Joshua Evans, a former Marine Corps aviator and air traffic controller who came back from Afghanistan and Iraq with a hearing loss and a need to make a living in a new way.

To help them become successful, Anderson faculty run them through a different kind of bootcamp where disabled vets — soldiers, sailors, Marines and others injured during the global war on terrorism — can get a crash course in experiential education and training in entrepreneurship and small business management, along with faculty mentorship, absolutely free.

flag“It’s a great opportunity,” said Evans, 35, who came from Carlsbad, Calif. to enroll in Anderson's Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities. He lost his hearing after working in and around planes for years. “I found out about it from a buddy of mine who went through it last year, and I felt like it was something I couldn’t pass up.”

Evans currently runs a business that specializes in emergency response planning and sales. But he is trying to wedge his way into the biometrics industry, selling an ID card system that uses biometric information — such as a retinal scan — to identify people.

“I want to go off into a different direction in business,” said Evans, “and I think that this program will really help me with that."

The bootcamp program, which originated at Syracuse University in 2007, gives disabled veterans a chance to come to a university for a week and hone their business skills. The program has spread not only to UCLA, which offered it for the first time last year, but also to Texas A&M, Florida State University and Purdue University.

The rationale is simple. “There are all these veterans coming back who have disabilities which make them unable to pursue their previous line of work,” said Elaine Hagan, the executive director of the Price Center who oversees the program. “What if we did something for these people for whom entrepreneurship might be a very viable means of employment?”

From August 1 through August 9, a select group of 19 disabled veterans from all over the country received top-of-the-line training and education from faculty experts in entrepreneurship.

The program is built around two central principles. The first emphasizes the importance of practical training in the tools and skills necessary for a successful entrepreneurial business. The second, equally important principle focuses on establishing a support system for those in the program, so that, upon graduating, they will have a strong structure on which to build a business.

“When they leave,” noted Hagan, “the entire class becomes a network and a resource for them, too.”

Before they even arrived on campus, the veterans participated in an online study program which helped them develop business contacts. They also participated in a discussion moderated by the entrepreneurship faculty and M.B.A. students.

During the students’ nine-day stay on campus, they immersed themselves in business knowledge essential to their success and attended experimental workshops and informative lectures by UCLA’s top business professors. Once they're on their own, graduates of the program receive ongoing support and mentorship from the faculty members that taught them.

“We feel really honored to be able to do this,” said Hagan. “To see that these individuals are not looking for a hand-out, but instead want to have productive lives and … create companies that maybe could become a family business — that's important to us.”