Veterans Program Supports Entrepreneurial Aspirations
After four weeks of online classes and an intense, seven-day residency this spring, it was “go time” for the 19 veterans enrolled in the free Veterans Entrepreneurial Jumpstart (VEJ) program at Saint Joseph’s University.
Each had five minutes in the “Shark Tank” to pitch their entrepreneurial ideas to a panel of judges. Pitches ranged from landscaping and snow removal services to an afterschool program for girls. Three winners were named but all the participants could mark the experience in the win column.
Army veteran Samuel Raiche from Prairie Village, Kan., earned the nod as the top pitch with his mobile information and contact sharing app Remember Everyone. Air Force veteran Leslie Dalton Jr., a professor at West Texas A&M University, came in second with his novel online treatment for tinnitus, the No. 2 war-related post-service disability. Indianapolis Army veteran Don Livers took third place with his company Soldier in God’s Army, which creates unique, inspirational and educational gifts.
Created by SJU’s Office of Veterans Services, VEJ provides veterans with business fundamentals, guidance in developing business plans and networking opportunities.
Made possible through a $1 million anonymous gift, the program enlisted 16 men and three women from 10 states and all ranks from the four branches of the armed services.
“We wanted to give them an education on the business side,” said program director and Air Force veteran Ralph Galati ’70, who spent 14 months as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “But it was also important for them to develop the personal skills necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur. They have to adequately represent their business and develop soft skills around selling the business and themselves.
“When veterans leave combat, they enter into a difficult period of readjustment and transition,” Galati said. “That adjustment can challenge any veteran, but it is compounded when he or she comes back from combat with physical or emotional disabilities.”
External support for the program was overwhelming. Nearly 60 individuals volunteered to present or lecture during the residency week and program participants received computers from the American Legion.
Following the “Shark Tank” event, participants received six months of mentorship and pro bono legal, tax and accounting, web design and hosting and wealth management services.
Applications for the next VEJ cohort are due July 1. For more information or to apply, visit sju.edu/vej.