The veterans visiting Texas A&M University this week know that success in business, much like a successful military career, requires determination.
A&M entrepreneurship experts and guest lecturers are in the fifth day of putting 21 veterans from around the country through an intensive training program that will prepare them for a successful life after service. For the veterans, each day at the eighth Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities starts at 7:30 a.m. They learn the ins and outs of marketing, accounting, pitch development and many other business practices until 9:30 p.m., when they can spend time working on final pitch presentations and getting out into the community.
The event will culminate Saturday in a final pitch presentation and dinner in the Presidential Dining Room at George H.W. Bush Library's Annenberg Presidential Conference Center.
Dallas resident Rulon Davis, who played football for the University of California-Berkeley and for a short time with the Denver Broncos after a four-year career in the Marine Corps, called the boot camp a "fire hose" constantly pumping out valuable information.
"Every day is a new day," Davis said. "Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, they outdo themselves the next day. It's better than what we can get on our own."
The EVB was founded at Syracuse University in New York in 2007 with Texas A&M as one of the four founding schools and sustains itself through private donations. The program has expanded to 10 schools and graduated 1,130 entrepreneurs that have generated more than $196 million in revenue from their businesses.
Davis said the reason veterans succeed as entrepreneurs is because they refuse to take "no" as an answer.
"We have, through military training, faced adversity unlike civilian life," Davis said. "We're already geared with the right mindset to go into a risky venture and apply that into the civilian world. Having that can-do spirit is what entrepreneurs are made of, so it's a match made in heaven."
Evad Williams served two tours in Kuwait in support of Operation: Enduring Freedom before moving to Houston to work in real estate investment. He said the boot camp has helped him forge lifelong professional and personal relationships that will support him in his goal of starting a property management company.
"It is a blessing to meet like-minded veterans who are interested in starting or expanding their business," Williams said.
Merbebe Solomon, who served 14 years as a Marine, said the boot camp environment is a perfect fit for servicemen and women because they are more effective when they work together. He enrolled in the boot camp to help elevate his career as an author and public speaker and drew upon his own life struggles and experiences to write a short book called Your Rose of Jericho to motivate readers to follow their dreams.
Solomon said the boot camp introduced him to what he called "by far the most supportive and bonded community" in Bryan-College Station.
"It feels like I have the validation to know I've been doing things right, but also to know I have a direction to go," Solomon said.
Boot camp participant Chris Thompson, a Bryan resident and owner of Old Glory Armory, was inspired to start his business while stationed in Iraq in 2012 and said he has felt strong support from the A&M and local communities since he returned. He said both will be crucial resources as he grows his business.
"I think no matter what or how much you know, there is always something to learn," Thompson said.