Business Boot Camp
Building business skills in military veterans
Shane Skinner is President of Enactus Memorial (previously known as SIFE Memorial), Enactus is a global community of student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a better, more sustainable world.
“It’s something you can’t really describe unless you experience it," says Skinner. “It’s a relationship that develops so quickly, but it is a life-long bond.”
Mr. Skinner feels strongly about the relationships he built during last year’s Based in Business boot camp, a program dedicated to creating entrepreneurial opportunities for Canadian forces members. Last summer, Enactus Memorial teamed up with Memorial’s faculty, students and community members to engage ex-military personnel in a one-week workshop to help make their entrepreneurial dreams a reality.
The program was initiated in 2008, when the Department of National Defense approached Memorial with the need to help medically discharged and soon-to-be-retired Canadian Forces members transition from the military to the business world.
The week is broken into two segments. By day, professors in the Faculty of Business Administration teach budding entrepreneurs all the business basics, from marketing and financing to human resources. In the evenings, members are paired up with student mentors, who help them apply their newfound knowledge to a concrete business model. “This is when the real-life interaction happens,” says Mr. Skinner.
Meals are sponsored by various community businesses, from retail outlets to electrical companies, who are also invited to come out and share their experiences. “It has become a real community effort,” says Mr. Skinner. “We have so many businesses that want to help out, and this gives the Canadian Forces members the chance to pick the brains of people in the business community, helping them learn tips for success.”
Starting a business from scratch is undoubtedly daunting for anyone, especially for people who have recently experienced the potential stress of military employment. Because so many members suffer post-dramatic stress disorder, Mr. Skinner says giving them a space to engage with one another is crucial. “It’s amazing for them to be in a room with other people who have gone through the same things,” he says. “They open up to each other, provide support and help each other get through it.”
JR Smith is one of the participants from the 2011 Based in Business boot camp. Now running his own custom cabinetry and woodworking business in Barrie, Ontario, Mr. Smith says he couldn't have done it without the group's guidance. “It's scary because all we know is being soldiers,” he says. “Just seeing that you're not the only one out there that's taking this giant leap makes you feel at ease.”
Another important part of training, Mr. Skinner says, is helping members realize the potential they already have. “They have so many skills from the military that can be applied in the business world,” he says. “They have learned teamwork, leadership, problem solving. They have the capacity; it’s just a matter of giving them the confidence and empowering them to realize it.”
Building this confidence, Mr. Skinner says, not only makes a positive impact on their lives, but also on the wider community. “The confidence they gain when they leave here allows them to build better communities across the country,” he says.
And the benefits of the experience extend even further. “I really believe that students get just as much, if not more out of the program,” he says. “We get to apply our university knowledge to a real business and help aspiring entrepreneurs. That experience is invaluable.”
In 2012, Enactus Memorial was approached by both the Prince’s Charities Canada and the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) to create a partnership called the Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur program. This new partnership built upon the Based in Business boot camp, adding business planning support, access to financing and specialized business mentoring from the CYBF.
Skinner’s confidence in Based in Business, he says, comes instinctively; as he draws on the friendships he’s formed from past initiatives. “The bond that is developed goes beyond the business,” he says, adding that students and program participants keep in contact after the program ends. “Each year, there’s a Facebook group made for everyone to keep in touch. We make sure they know we are here to help them, not just as their mentors, but as friends.”