Mining entrepreneurial genius

Veterans founding their own businesses learn from each other and an ecosystem of MU experts.

  • Mike Moran (left), vice president of Hawthorn Bank, discusses banking services and U.S. Small Business Administration loans in a “genius bar” session with participants enrolled in Mizzou’s eighth annual Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans.

July 13, 2023

According to data released in March 2023 by the U.S. Department of Labor, 41% of post-9/11 veterans, about 2 million people, reported a service-connected disability.

“Many of these veterans have limited opportunities to climb the corporate economic ladder due to their injuries,” said Greg Bier, the University of Missouri’s executive director of entrepreneurship programs. “Owning a small business is another way to contribute to the economic engine in their community and the nation.”

Empowering post-9/11 veterans to make their business ideas a reality is the main goal of MU’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV). This year’s program included an intense eight-day residency led by Bier on the Mizzou campus and a monthlong online business fundamentals course taught by J. Scott Christianson, an associate teaching professor in the Management Department and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business.

“I would be happy to go work for any one of these folks,” Christianson said. “It’s a great service for our veterans, and it enriches the Mizzou community. Students who connected with this year’s EBV class benefitted from their experience and understanding of what it takes to be successful.”

MU was one of only eight universities in the country to offer EBV in 2023. The program, based at the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, relies on its consortium of higher education partners to provide a rigorous curriculum each year. The Veterans United Foundation has sponsored EBV at Mizzou since 2015 when the university joined the consortium. 

Bier and Kelly Mattas, a senior program/project support coordinator, recruited 25 community leaders from Colorado, Iowa and Missouri to share their expertise with the veterans on topics such as customer discovery, digital marketing, business law, web development and commercial loans. New this year were two evening “genius bars.”

“The genius bars allowed veterans to speak with industry experts in a roundtable-discussion format,” Mattas said. “The small groups could dive deeper into their challenges and receive immediate feedback to navigate their next steps. Our community members were excited to participate and support our veterans.”

Keith Andrews, an Air Force veteran from Jacksonville, Florida, said EBV helped him expand his business plan for Freedom Fisheries, which will sell fish and vegetables raised with hydroponics, drip irrigation, aquaponics and other new technologies.

“EBV put the meat on the bone and the fruit on the tree,” Andrews said. “Collaborating with other entrepreneurs has been wonderful. I’m excited about being part of the program, and I want to mentor others in the same way.”

Read more from the Division of Research, Innovation and Impact

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