I’m going to take a little break from my Syracuse University Institute of Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) lovefest to talk about another entrepreneurial program available to disabled veterans. This one is run by Oklahoma State University’s Riata Center for Entrepreneurship in conjunction with the Small Business Administration (SBA). The Veterans with Disabilities Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) was started in 2009, has produced approximately 180 graduates thus far, and is entirely free to veterans. And I mean entirely free – no application fee, no registration fee, and the program pays for all books, training, travel, lodging, meals, field trips, an opening buffet, and a closing gala.
Similar to other programs, the VEP is a three phase program. Phase I is Concept Development and Self-Study and consists of 5 weeks of online training focused on the basics of business and helping the participant develop a more targeted business concept. Phase II is the residency portion, called VEP Bootcamp. This is held at Oklahoma State’s campus in Stillwater, OK, and lasts for eight days. During this portion, participants will listen to guest lecturers, participate in interactive workshops (including giving a sales pitch) with top entrepreneurial faculty and business owners, and network with their peers and other key players of the business industry. Phase III is Mentoring and Venture Development, a 10-month period that commences immediately following the residency portion. This phase is designed to support veterans with technical support to answer questions as they implement their business ideas, provide them access to resources, and continue their peer-to-peer interaction. Phase I generally begins in December, Phase II in early February, and Phase III lasts from March through the next December.
One thing that sets this program apart from others I’ve discussed this week is that those are limited to Post-9/11 era veterans, while Oklahoma State’s program is open to all veterans with service-connected disabilities and an honorable discharge and to those who are “service distinguished.” Servicemembers in the transition process who have applied for a disability rating with the VA can also participate.
Applications are accepted until 1 October each year on a rolling, or first-come, first-served basis. (I did confirm that the application window for this year has closed but it’s never too early to get prepped for next year!). While previous classes were 40-45 students in size, in order to provide more attention to each attendee, starting with the 2014 class only 25 slots will be available. The application itself is slightly longer than those of similar programs and requires details of your military service, education, any military or educational honors, as well as supplemental questions on what venture you are hoping to start, where you see your venture in 5 years, and what traits you have that make you suited for both the program and business ownership. Applicants must also upload a DD-214, resume, and proof of disability rating, and mail in two sealed letters of recommendation.
Details and the application for the program can be found at: https://entrepreneurship.okstate.edu/riata/veterans/
In 2012, Oklahoma State partnered with the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga to expand the VEP program. The only differences between the programs are the location (UTC instead of Oklahoma State), timing (it has a 15 April cut off date for a July start), and number of participants in each class (UTC’s is slightly smaller with 20).
Details and the application for the UTC version of the program can be found at: http://www.utc.edu/college-business/academic-programs/vep/.
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