Veterans spark small businesses with guidance from mentors

Veterans and mentors alike turn their attention to a presentation by networking expert Mark Twentyman. Seated at the front table are Veterans Launching Ventures mentor-in-residence John Howlett (left) and student Calvin Jackson.

By Kenna Caprio

On a sunny day at the end of June, veterans and mentors gather for presentations in the Rutherford Room at the College at Florham.


Students mill around during the lunch break, making connections and sampling food. The morning consisted of business plan presentations by fellow peers. After lunch, and a networking pitch by business expert Mark Twentyman, the sharing of plans and critiquing will continue.


The day is a culmination of everything the student veterans have been working towards for more than two months.


“I will always be indebted to this program and its leadership for the tools that they have provided, which will ultimately enable my business to grow and prosper,” says Calvin Jackson, owner of GilGal Associates, a construction company in Maplewood. Jackson is part of the latest cohort of veterans to finish the program.


Veterans Launching Ventures matches students with mentors, successful entrepreneurs and veterans themselves, in an effort to support existing small businesses and future endeavors. Through in-person and online instruction, students create and refine business plans before presenting to their peers and mentors and receiving a certificate for the course. All veterans are welcome to apply and all mentors are volunteers.


“It’s unique because of that combination of the classroom and the practical aspects of mentoring,” says John Howlett, Mentor-in-Residence for the Ventures program. “Any veteran who wants to start his own business or expand should take advantage of it,” continues the Vietnam veteran.


Jackson, who served in the United States Navy in the 1970s and has been in business for 17 years, is certainly taking advantage. He has degrees from Montclair State University and Pratt Institute, School of Architecture. But something was missing for him until he enrolled in the Veterans program.


“There were several things I had planned to do, but could not afford the time,” he says. Post-course, Jackson has a completed marketing and business plan plus new knowledge about industry market forces, market penetration and social media. He’s prepared an income and expense budget that offers a five-year projection, he’s instituting a corporate leadership program and is cultivating “an environment geared towards stimulating growth while controlling development,” he says. And now, for the remainder of the year, Jackson can turn to his mentor if new questions or problems arise.


“We’ve universally had a high level of satisfaction from students,” notes Howlett. “They’ve just been amazed at what they can learn in ten weeks and start from working with a mentor and implementing a business plan.”


Howlett pairs each student with a mentor counterpart, trying to match up their respective fields of interest and expertise. If he doesn’t have an expert for a particular business sector, he ensures his pick of advisor has a solid understanding of general business fundamentals.


Relying on her mentor and applying that business plan is exactly what Jacqueline Veasey is counting on to help get to its launch date of Veteran’s Day, November 2012.

Veterans Launching Ventures student Jacqueline Veasey smiles in between bites of her lunch on the last day of the program.

“Our goal is to help the new, young and start-ups — anyone who wants to get out there,” says Veasey, founder of The company plans to hold “expo-style forums,” encouraging companies to buy booth space to promote themselves in the tri-state area. Start-ups will have a place to “launch, promote, sell and test market,” through these trade fairs. “As a start-up myself, I know it’s tough to get started,” she says.


After her presentation, Veasey received feedback from the mentors and students that she would do well to refine her business plan into more specifics. The N.J. Air National Guard veteran said she takes, “terrific training and a great mentor,” away from the experience.


Veterans Launching Ventures, an initiative of the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship at Fairleigh Dickinson University, positions veterans to thrive in the business world. Throughout the 10-week program, experienced faculty and successful entrepreneurs introduce entrepreneurship ideas and concepts. Cohorts are limited to 20 students.


The program is supported by grants made possible through The Walmart Foundation, The Provident Bank Foundation, American Legion Post 43 and FDU’s Silberman College of Business.

Veterans can apply to the program now online. The next session is expected to start in the fall of 2012.

Feature Story from the FDU Newsroom

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