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Veterans Earn Entrepreneurship Certificates for Free

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A business survey of veterans who are transitioning back into civilian life reveals many would like to start or run their own business.

While the military provides rigorous training and discipline, it's not exactly the place to learn skills on how to succeed in business.

That’s the territory of an experienced businessman like Jack Grise who has created and sold two different businesses. He did a stint in the Navy when he was young and now wants to share business knowledge with veterans who want to start their own companies.

“The common mistake that they make is they think they have a product or service that people are going to buy,” Grise said. “They don’t know how to price it. They don’t know how to market it. They don’t know how to size the market. And they think they’re going to wing it.”

Grise is a volunteer with Pinellas SCORE. He read about a entrepreneurship program at Syracuse University for disabled veterans. So, Grise approached St. Petersburg College to create a veterans entrepreneur certificate program that would be for all military veterans and would last only weeks.

“Veterans may or may not have a college degree. Veterans may or may not want to attend a four-year college,” Grise said. “But they want to get into business and what we’re seeing from SCORE’s perspective of clients coming to us wanting to start a business is that they really don’t have a clue.”

It took about a half-year, but St. Petersburg College and Pinellas SCORE created the accelerated entrepreneur certificate program for veterans. Associate professor Amy Sauers co-teaches the course with the goal of testing and refining veterans’ business ideas.

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Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Pinellas SCORE volunteer Jack Grise (L) and Veterans Entrepreneurship instructor Amy Sauers (R).

“The very first day you walk into the class, it’s not really a class -- it’s a doing,” Sauers said. “We have you define your target customer and what their problem is because you’re always solving a problem because if you’re not, no one will pay you.”

The first class in January lasted only four weeks. After feedback, the next class will meet once a week for eight weeks. In addition to the coursework, SCORE provides a mentor in the class for each of the veterans. Twenty-one of the 25 veterans graduated from the initial class.

“The great part about this course is that they’re all going through it together,” Sauers said. “So instead of being out there on their own and the school of hard knock,s they actually do rely upon each other.”

John Crane teamed up with his wife, Casey, and together they took the accelerated entrepreneurs course. He spent four years as an Army medic including a year in Iraq, but he is now a fulltime student who holds down a part-time job.

“When we first signed up, we thought it would very general basic information,” Casey Crane said. “When we showed up to the class, it knocked our socks off.”

John says they were ready to withdraw that first night worried they couldn’t handle the work.

Their instructor was encouraging but direct saying if they wanted to start a business they were in the right place.

Credit CJ Crane Photography LLC
An example of the work from CJ Crane Photography.

So the young married couple gave it another week. That turned into two weeks. Before they realized it, they were graduating and winning the top prize among their classmates for the best business pitch for their company, C.J. Crane Photography LLC.

“Our tagline for our company is: capturing moments, capturing you,” John Crane said.

The course catapulted the couple into action. They’ve licensed their company, created a website and have a business plan for their first year. They will be meeting with their SCORE mentor to plan the next several years.

The Accelerated Entrepreneurship Certificate program for veterans is free. Classes are on a rotating basis. As soon as 10 veterans sign up – a new class will be scheduled at St. Petersburg College.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
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