Cereal-flavored milk. A gadget to help women zip up a dress without assistance. A line of clothing for female motorcyclists. A new system to help pilots stay on their flight path.
Those are just a handful of business ideas some of the 25 disabled veterans offered Sunday during a session with serial entrepreneur and inventor Eric Knight.
Knight spent more than two hours with the veterans sharing stories about some of his inventions, including a scuba diving tool to help divers communicate underwater, a training shirt for runners, a travel website, and a rocket that reached space in 2004.
The session was part of a 10-day entrepreneurial training boot camp for disabled veterans interested in starting their own businesses.
Janette Blackmore, 51, of Maryland may already be ahead of some of her fellow classmates since she already has a clothing line for female bikers called Chocolate Rider.
A retired Air Force veteran said when she first started riding as a woman with curves nothing fit her and she had to go look for clothes in the men’s section. That’s when she had a dream about the name for the clothing line.
She said she knew there were other women out there that were in a similar situation and she wanted to develop a clothing line that was sexy and safe.
“Safety is sexy,” she said.
She said she applied to be accepted to the 10-day boot camp because she wanted to learn how to develop a business plan to better market her clothing line.
She asked Knight how important having a business plan is for the success of a business.
“I’m not a big fan of business plans,” Knight told her.
He said he was more interested in execution and was a fan of a lean business model. He talked briefly about how he developed the idea for the Parashirt while still working for an advertising agency in Hartford.
It wasn’t until he was named one of the top 100 inventors of the year and made an appearance on the David Letterman show that he cut his ties with the advertising agency and made a go of it.
He encouraged the group to keep their day jobs while they developed their products and businesses.
Doug Yeager, 38, of Winsted was the last veteran accepted into the program.
A current MBA student at the University of Connecticut Business School, Yeager is also a pilot and a Marine Corps reservist who served in the infantry division of the Connecticut National Guard for six years, including 365 days in Afghanistan. He wants to develop an application to help pilots stay on course without having to constantly look down at a map and their instruments.
He said his invention which would triangulate a GPS system off a cellphone and send it to a pilot wearing something like Google goggles which would allow them to visualize the actual flight path and increase the safety of flights.
“It frees you up and helps you make safer decisions,” Yeager said.
He envisions the application being used not only by pilots, but by air traffic control tower staff who would have access to the same information to determine if a flight was straying too far from their course. Right now there is only a transponder on an airplane which sends a signal back to the control tower, but it doesn’t allow you to see the flight path.
When the flight paths changed on Sept. 11, if this technology was available their may have been time to stop the attack, he said.
“It would also cut down on the stress of air traffic control staff,” Yeager said.
Yeager, who is working at Target full-time while also going to school, graduates in April 2013 and plans to have his business venture off the ground by then.
He learned Sunday that patent law now favors those who file first, not those who are the first to invent something. So he knows the clock is ticking, but the numbers are on his side.
The 10-day boot camp has a good track record. Of its 27 graduates, 25 veterans have gone onto create successful businesses.
Ed Young is just one of those successes. His business journey from PTSD to business owner is chronicled here in this Hartford Courant article.
Michael Zacchea, a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel and executive director of Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, said the program was started for Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans because the unemployment rate for those particular veterans is more than 30 percent.
Connecticut is the eighth worst state for veteran employment. More than 40,000 veterans out of over 250,000 in the state are currently unemployed, according to the CT Department of Veterans Affairs and Joint Economic Report from Congress.
But the bootcamp is for veterans for all across the country. This current class of 25 included five veterans from Connecticut.
The $15,000 price tag for each disabled veteran to participate comes from private donation, Zacchea said. However, it’s a small price to pay considering the $1 million that it would cost for each veteran with a disability to receive benefits and healthcare from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Besides the University of Connecticut, this entrepreneurship program is offered at Syracuse, UCLA, Purdue, Florida State University, Louisiana State University, Texas A&M University and Cornell University School of Hospitality Management.
Collectively, more than 500 service-disabled veterans have graduated from the program since its start in 2007 and are responsible for the start of more than 300 new, small businesses.
“Veterans who want to own or operate their own businesses realize there’s a lot of risk and responsibility involved but they don’t quit,” Zacchea said. “They didn’t quit on their missions and they won’t quit in their entrepreneurial pursuits.”
In some ways veterans have an advantage in starting a business, not only are there programs like the one held Sunday at the Residence Inn in Hartford, but there are specific pots of money earmarked specifically for veterans.
Similar to the popular site, Kickstarter.com, veterans can use a similar micro-payment site to help launch their business which is called BoostAHero.com. The website is geared toward helping returning veterans start their own franchise, but is expanding to include funding for independent business ventures.
Tikeyah Whittle contributed to this report.