William & Mary’s Entrepreneur Scholars Program takes veterans from idea to startup in five weeks

The road to starting your own business is a long one, with lots of bumps and hurdles along the way. The Raymond A. Mason School of Business at Virginia’s College of William & Mary has launched a ride-sharing lane for entrepreneurial-minded veterans, the Veteran Entrepreneur Scholars Program.

Over the course of five weeks, the free boot camp-style program helps vets create a workable business idea, develop it into a viable concept, and create the conditions necessary to launch their business once the program is complete. It also teaches participants about startup culture, best practices, networking and more.

“This is a five-week, part-time course, so it’s meant to fit into your life,” Will Gregory, founder of the Veteran Startup Challenge (VSC), told Military.com. “We removed everything to ensure our vets are immediately up and running with the critical information they need and can actually apply what they learn in actionable ways.”

Gregory is an anthropologist by training and has worked in the tech startup sector of Silicon Valley. His appreciation for veterans came when he deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, first with the Army and then with the Marine Corps as an anthropologist, helping Marines make sense of culture. Afghan.

Upon his return from Afghanistan, he began working with startup accelerator Y Combinator, recruiting veterans. As more and more veterans began to ask him for help in their endeavors, he began to pool resources they could use.

“I knew if something happened, the Marines I was with would support me no matter what,” he said. “I had never experienced anything like it: the level of camaraderie and selflessness of these Marines. So when I came back, I just wanted to try to help them even a fraction of the way they m ‘helped.”

The result is the Veteran Startup Challenge, funded by William & Mary alumni and run by the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, William & Mary’s Center for Military Transition and the Alan B. Miller Entrepreneurship Center.

Applicants to the program arrive with a clean slate, starting with a new idea, whether they are currently working on a startup or not. As part of a cohort of 10 people, everyone starts from the same point: to think like an entrepreneur.

“We want them to get out there and start identifying the challenges they’re having in their own lives,” Gregory said. “Then they find other people who are having the same challenges and see if it’s a big enough problem for people to consider a product or service to solve it.”

From there, veterans begin to apply startup frameworks to their idea, allowing them to streamline the processes for bringing their potential business to market. This is a startup accelerator program that was originally aimed at the tech industry, but Gregory is continually amazed at how creative veterans are when applying the same principles to other businesses.

“It’s actually a very simple process,” he said. “We teach them which frameworks will be useful for their idea. The ideas have been very varied, from medical to real estate technology. It’s really great to see.”

Once boot camp is over, veterans have access to the entire network of alumni from previous cohorts, who offer guidance and fellowship in the new world of entrepreneurship they are about to enter. ‘enter.

“By being part of this small community, they can really expand not only their network, but also the scope of their understanding of the startup experience,” Gregory said.

Graduates also receive certificates from the Mason School of Business Center for Military Transition and the Veteran Startup Challenge. Digital credentials to display on social media such as LinkedIn are included, in addition to invitations to select opportunities and events for William & Mary alumni as certificate program graduates.

Applicants to the program need no prior business or start-up experience, and it is open to all current service members and veterans. Since the Veteran Entrepreneur Scholarship Program is a VSC boot camp scholarship, attendance is free, but travel and living expenses are not provided.

“To any veteran who’s wondering if they should apply, if they’re not sure if they have the credentials to apply, I say just apply. Let’s make that call,” Gregory said. “I don’t want to see a vet who is a really good fit with the program refrain from taking this vaccine. Chances are we’re looking for different things than what mainstream educational institutions might be looking for.”

To learn more about the Veteran Entrepreneur Scholars program or to apply, visit the program website. There are in-person and remote cohorts, and applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

— Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. It can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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