Last year, my company, Kauffman FastTrac, was awarded a sizeable grant to train U.S. military veterans to become entrepreneurs in 2012. At the time that we were made aware of the funding, I felt very proud to have won the grant and was eager to implement our plan for which we expected to create special coursework and train 280 veterans to start and grow companies. Intuitively, I understood that what we were doing was important work. And, with veteran unemployment rates 1.5 to 2.0 times higher than the general unemployment rate, offering entrepreneurship as a career option for creating jobs served an urgent need. I expected us to execute on the plan (we did… and learned a lot in the process), I expected us to hit our goal (we exceeded it… training 300 veterans!), I expected about 30-40 percent of the course participants from across the country to start businesses (50 percent reported that they had or planned to start a business within six months of completing their FastTrac traininig). What I was unprepared for was the emotional pull these men and women would have on me personally.
I must say, this has been some of the most personally and professionally gratifying work I have done in my life. To engage with and get to know these courageous, selfless men and women who have served our country is downright humbling. I have loved getting to know them, I have loved learning their stories, I have loved watching them triumph as they build companies from the ground up that they only dreamt of in the past.
Together with the course instructors who we recruited from cities throughout the nation – each of them a veteran and an entrepreneur in their own right – the guest speakers, the course sponsors and, of course, the participants themselves, my team and I feel privileged to now be part of a special community.
It turns out veterans are specially prepared to establish community. Their shared experiences, their common commitment to our nation and to one another, their leadership skills, ability to manage through risk, decision making capabilities and determination equip them to bond very quickly with one another. In fact, one of our Kauffman FastTrac Veterans Initiative course instructors contacted us to share that he was beyond moved to see how the veterans in his class came together, supported one another and instantly became one another’s ad hoc advisors. What a lovely network.
Today, in honor of Veterans Day and in honor of the men and women and their families who have so bravely served, the cause and the network I speak of is that of our U.S. Military active duty and veteran community. That said, whatever your cause, whatever draws you closer to others, whatever it is that moves you to support another, commit yourself to it and develop a community around it. There is no better way to build a network and a meaningful relationship base that adds value to all parties.
Oh… and if you are a veteran (or know of a veteran) who is interested in starting or growing a company, the Kauffman FastTrac Veterans Initiative will train an additional 500 veterans to become entrepreneurs in 2013. Please consider signing up for a class in your area or via the web.
Happy Veterans Day!