JUNE 17, 2009

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OSU Entrepreneurs to Help Disabled Veterans Launch Businesses

Oklahoma State University is now accepting applications for its new entrepreneurial  training program that will equip disabled veterans with the skills needed to launch their own businesses.

Veterans with Disabilities Entrepreneurship Program, known as VEP, is an entrepreneurial training program that provides the business support and resources necessary for disabled soldiers returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. The program aims at developing viable approaches for turning veterans’ business ideas into workable business models, helping them create their own companies, and making their ventures sustainable.

Dr. Michael Morris, head of OSU’s Department of Entrepreneurship in the Spears School of Business, started VEP. He came to Stillwater from Syracuse University in January after accepting the N. Malone Mitchell Jr. Chair in Entrepreneurship. The program’s model is similar to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans he helped establish at Syracuse.

“This program was created to help empower (veterans),” Morris said. “It is to show them a path that centers on entrepreneurship. They will pay nothing – transportation, accommodation, books, food, instruction; everything is free. They will be exposed to the top entrepreneurship educators we have; we bring them in from around the country.”

Tim Hatcher is one of the many success stories for programs like VEP. The Marine served for 21 years, including time in Operation Enduring Freedom, and was retired in May 2003.

Four years later, the retired gunnery sergeant signed up for Syracuse’s program. He was so impressed by it that he offered to cover his own expenses, which was unnecessary because of the program’s endowment. Hatcher said offering the “great program” for free is extremely helpful to younger veterans who don’t have a lot of money when they depart from the service.

“I think it’s wonderful that so many people donated time and money to help out disabled vets,” Hatcher said. “We don’t expect a thank you to be honest, but it was very nice and we’re humbled by it. Still to this day I try to stay in touch with most of the folks. I’ll do anything for Dr. Morris and the rest of the folks.”
 

In February 2006, Hatcher launched Objective Resources International, a company “established to provide unique solutions and services to the government and civilian analytical sectors,” according to its Web site, www.ori-usa.com. He took part in the entrepreneurship program in August 2007. Hatcher said the lessons he learned there have made a big difference in the success of the company.

To ensure OSU’s program is always available to veterans like Hatcher, VEP is raising $150,000 per year for the first three years, after which it will be self-sustaining. Funds are still being raised, but the first session at OSU will be held this winter.

“We can’t sit and wait for the money and then say, ‘OK, let’s go,’” Morris said. “We have to take the risk and get on with it. It’s the right thing to do, and we owe it to these young men and women.”

For more information about the program and the application process, visit entrepreneurship.okstate.edu/vep. To make a donation, visit OSUgiving.com, or contact Morris at 405-744-5357 or Dr. Bob Hamm at 405-744-3947.