Texas A&M's McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship's annual Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans -- or EBV -- kicks off today, with 22 veterans from across the country working with A&M faculty and area business owners over the course of the next week.

The nationally based program has been offered at Texas A&M for more than 10 years, and has helped dozens of U.S. veterans each year realize their dreams of starting or growing their own company. During the camp, veterans will study business education, providing them with resources beneficial to establishing their own business.

According to Blake Petty, director of the Texas A&M Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, about 65 percent of the program's graduates start a business following their week of EBV education, and approximately 90 percent of those businesses are still running after 18 months.

"Some of the veterans who come through have college experience, but most are very naive to the college environment," Petty said.

Veterans represent a mixture of military branches, levels of experience, generations and skill sets. Their business ideas are limitless in terms of diversity, though it's not uncommon for a participant to completely change their plan and business model during the course of their instruction from Aggie faculty and mentoring professionals. Some participants have already started their company, and use what they learn during the week to nourish the establishment or take it in a new direction.

Jeremy Williams, a Marine Corps veteran and graduate of the 2013 EBV program, is now the owner of a T-shirt company and a consulting company based out of Willis, Not only did EBV give him the inspiration to launch these projects, but it also led him to pursue earning his master's degree in public service and administration from the Bush School of Government and Public Service in 2017.

"The first certificate to hang on my wall was from Texas A&M," Williams said. "... [EBV] opened my eyes and primarily empowered me to see the possibilities."

Williams said EBV helped create drive within him to follow through with his ventures, and the connections he made with A&M faculty and with other veterans have been helpful as those businesses continue to grow. Williams' desire to attend the Bush School immediately following his time with EBV is not unusual, Petty said. Many veterans who have gone through the program have elected to enroll at Texas A&M.

EBV is free to attend, and the veterans who are accepted undergo a thorough application process. The program pays for all food, travel and lodging, totalling to about $5,000 in expenses per veteran. Funding is provided primarily by sponsoring organization Reynolds & Reynolds, and other benefactors.

"[These businesses] will have a much higher success rate because these veterans are disciplined, and they are very passionate about their ideas," Petty said. "Once they start something, you can hardly get them off of it."

While participants will be receiving education and guidance throughout the week from professors and mentors, Petty noted that the McFerrin Center is still hoping more business owners and corporate leaders will offer to come and speak to the blossoming entrepreneurs during the week. Mentors do not need to be veterans or from the local area. Anyone interested in assisting can contact Petty at blakepetty@tamu.edu. The week of education will conclude July 21.

"I believe Texas A&M os the best place for veterans to go for their higher education, and just for opportunities for success," Williams said.

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