The Institute for Entrepreneurship at Florida’s Gulf Coast University has a free program for veterans to teach them how to start their own business.
One of the main goals of the program, Veterans Florida Entrepreneur, is to encourage veterans to stay in the state of Florida and not head somewhere else.
“In Southwest Florida there are a lot of retirees," Chris Littel said, who is a veteran and an instructor of entrepreneurship at Florida Gulf Coast University. "But there’s not this magnet for an ecosystem for entrepreneurship and small businesses."
The new business and entrepreneurship program started in Spring 2017. Thirty-five veterans signed up for the first class. Twenty of the veterans launched their own businesses.
The program uses the "Lean Startup Method" as its basis to teach military veterans how to start a business, from ideation to execution. It consists of three stages, which include networking events, workshops and an advanced course taught over 10 weeks.
Keith Basik enlisted in the United States Army from 1987 to 1992. He was an Army Ranger, a Bradley commander and he also served in the Gulf War.
Keith, 52, launched a Kickstarter page where he raised more than $15,000 for his invention of the FlipTowel. The FlipTowel has a magnetic quick release return, which allows a person to wipe off sweat while they are on the go quickly. The West Point graduate even has a catchy slogan for the product: "Don’t Sweat the Sweat, wear a Flip Towel."
A veteran from the program won the Benevolent Shark Tank Competition, which is a competition that FGCU holds at their Institute for Entrepreneurship, where students pitch business ideas for funding. The competition is held towards the latter part of the Spring semester. The veteran used his winnings from the Benevolent Shark Tank Competition to get his mobile food truck off the ground in SWFL.
The veteran unemployment rate has declined over the last decade. Nationally, the unemployment rate among all veterans was 3.7 percent in 2017. Among the 370,000 unemployed veterans across the United States, 59 percent were between the ages of 25 to 54, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics .
The program primarily serves applicants within the age group of 25 to 54. Prospective veterans should ask themselves a question to determine if they may be right for the program.
"Is working for yourself something you want to do?" Littel said.