Eric Nebeker always had the spirit of an entrepreneur, but after graduating from college in 1997 he joined the U.S. Army. Any thoughts of starting his own business were put on hold.
Fast forward two decades to a classroom inside the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business. A dozen veterans from all over the country engage in lecture and discussion. The space is filled with energy and entrepreneurial ideas.
Nebeker, now a lieutenant colonel in the Army, is participating in MU’s first Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV). He’s the only one in the room who is still on active duty, but he wants to be ready to start a business after he retires in October.
The inspiration and idea for his business came from his wife, Carrie Jones-Nebeker, who is the medical director for a hormone testing lab. Together, the couple wants to start a website to provide educational content about female hormones and sell webinars. Nebeker says there is a big market for that from women who want to be more educated about their bodies and from health care providers who need to take a certain amount of credits to keep their license active.
Nebeker wants to focus on the business side of the website while his wife provides the educational content.
“In the Army, I existed in a very defined culture, so the civilian world is culturally different,” Nebeker said. “And from there you go to the small business world, where you have to be profit-minded, while in military you never even think about profit.”
The EBV is there to put veterans into an entrepreneurial mindset and help them get started. The national program that was originally implemented by Syracuse University in 2006 and has since grown to include 10 universities. It offers training in experimental entrepreneurship to veterans with service-connected disabilities.
With the help of a $450,000 donation from Veterans United to cover three years of the program, MU held its first eight-day bootcamp this month. The event featured speakers from all over the state, including business professors and successful entrepreneurs.
Greg Bier, an MU business professor and the university’s EBV program director, is a U.S. Army veteran himself. He understands many of the challenges participants face when starting a business.
“I think that what makes the program unique is that I can walk in the classroom, and I can have dinner with those guys in the evening, and I can lay out my story for them and my business, and I am comfortable to have that dialogue because I am one of them,” Bier said.
Bier believes that veterans typically make good entrepreneurs because they already have self-confidence, they have made tough decisions before and they are more willing to take risks, which are all qualities that entrepreneurs need to have. However, some veterans lack basic business skills in areas like marketing or accounting.
Most of the participants have a business idea that they come to investigate further, Bier said. Others have already started a businesses and attend the bootcamp to learn how to reenergize it.
Ivory Harlow served in the Air Force before she and her husband, who is also a disabled U.S. veteran, moved to southern Ohio and started a goat farm called Dickie Bird Farm.
Even though Harlow already has a degree in business administration and a minor in management, she participated in the bootcamp to set new goals for herself. She said the experience had a positive effect.
“I am thinking of things a little bit differently than before I came here,” Harlow said. “My husband and I were going to expand and buy additional land, but I wanted to wait for the stars to align. But now I think I am just going to go for it.”