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No push-ups required at this military boot camp


Mike Starkey, fifth from the right, was among the attendees at an EBV boot camp at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia in April. He has signed to become a franchisee of The Joint Chiropractic.

Among a handful of veterans learning to tap government data to get market insight, Mike Starkey is diligently taking notes.

The U.S. Army logistics officer is among a handful of veterans who returned to boot camp. Not the 4 a.m. drills or grueling runs, but a marathon of insight from successful business owners and MBA-level educators.  

He attended the Entrepreneurship for Veterans with Disabilities boot camp, or EBV for short, at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia for nine days in April. Franchise Times went along, too, to learn what happens at the popular boot camps and to report best practices to other military-friendly franchisors who want to hold their own intensive sessions to train franchisees.

Starkey has already signed on as a franchisee in The Joint Chiropractic system as a way to continue his lifelong entrepreneurial journey, a path many disabled veterans follow when returning to civilian life. “I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted the freedom to make my own way,” said Starkey, who is eager to be out of rigid military hierarchy when his final deployment ends.

He is learning as much as he can at EBV. The program has helped more than 760 service members like Starkey learn the ins and outs of owning their own business—bridging the gap between standard business training and the jack-of-all trades that budding entrepreneurs and franchisees need to be.

The program is celebrating its 10th anniversary since being founded by Mike Haynie, a veteran who got a Ph.D. in entrepreneurship and strategic management and now serves as a faculty researcher at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. He said inspiration for the program came from his own experiences transitioning from wearing a uniform to teaching a class of undergrads in just a few days.

EBV, he said, builds on the ideals found in the military like hard work and following a system, but also fills in the knowledge gaps that veterans in transition typically face. “There’s a lot of good that comes with military service, but one of the challenges is that veterans are not always informed consumers as far as what they can do,” said Haynie.

The program has traveled to 10 schools so far, with more schools eager to implement the program—at no cost to attendees. Along with an overwhelming amount of business information, the program teaches two things.

“We provide all kinds of skill training, understanding markets and supply chains, but the biggest takeaways are understanding what business ownership is all about and the other is leveraging everything you have around,” said Haynie. “I want everyone who has gone through the program to be informed about all that goes into being a business owner.”

EBV serves as a template for companies looking to operate their own boot camp, whether it’s for initial training, an annual franchisee get-together or a special event. The key is to provide valuable, proven information.

The information should also be presented in a way that resonates with attendees, whether they’re new franchisees leaving the corporate world, multi-unit operators a franchisor wants to train in its system or military veterans.

Jerry Flanagan, founder and franchisor of JDog Junk Removal, holds his own boot camp tailored just for veterans that covers all aspects of the business in a way that’s familiar to veterans and veteran families—which make up all his franchisees.

“We have a strategy that’s built like a military invasion,” said Flanagan. “We have a ground assault, which is basically boots on the ground guerilla marketing strategies. We have a naval assault, which covers social media. And then we have an air assault, which covers our relationship with shopping centers across the country.”

The knowledge gleaned from a boot camp like the EBV program is expansive and valuable, past attendees say. But the most valuable aspect of a boot camp is the network.

‘You can call me every day’

Just like basic training, the bonds formed in a strenuous business boot camp are strong.

Parish Morris, a veteran running a document-shredding business in California with plans for a government contracting software platform, perfectly captured the spirit of that bond between EBV sessions. “You can call me every day,” Morris said to David Burnett, a classmate looking to start a lawn-care company.

Those six words are the utmost value of an educational boot camp. A network of business owners, educators and executives that could take a lifetime to cultivate is suddenly at attendee’s fingertips.

“If they’re smart, when they leave here they’ll have 100 new contacts,” said Ralph Galati, director at the Office of Veterans Services at Saint Joseph’s University. Galati, who oversaw the 10th-anniversary EBV program, said saving veterans time seeking out mentors, advisers and peers is essential.

He said if they can get 50 percent of attendees up and running in a year, they’ve been successful. Overall, the EBV program has helped 68 percent of attendees launch a venture, and 92 percent of them are still in business. It’s a testament to the program, but also to the growing network of attendees, who help each other with all the minutia of operating a business.

Starkey, a former aviator for the U.S. Army, said the network was critical. As he was searching for a franchise to continue his lifelong entrepreneurial efforts—with a brief break for the military—he found many franchised systems lacking, he said. His desire for a connected group of operators had him considering getting into the Chick-fil-A system, which he found to have a great communications network.

Ultimately, he decided on The Joint Chiropractic system in Utah, encouraged by a new directory among franchisees. He plans to tap the contacts he found at EBV. “As I go and the rubber hits the road and I find challenges opening, running and gaining the altitude I need, I’ll have a network that I can rely on,” said Starkey.

How to make your own boot camp

What to cover:

Everything. No matter how much there is, cram it in. It all won’t stick, but when something comes up down the road, operators may remember how to tackle the challenge or know where to find an answer.

Who to bring:

Leave the franchise developers at the office. A boot camp should be focused, actionable information, not fluff. Bring the best operators, the most tenured executives and any partners that have intimate knowledge of the concept. And make sure they’re ready to answer a lot of questions.

When to stop:

Boot camps are intense, so keep it short. Cram as much information in a short period of time so attendees are inspired, not bored. Then let them get back to business with a fresh perspective.

What to do afterward:

Make sure all attendees and trainers share all their contact information. When questions come up, having a dozen close peers and experts to call is invaluable. Make an effort to keep people connected through email, meetings or social media so attendees are comfortable reaching out when questions arise. Creating mentor-style relationships can strengthen that network further.

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