Former soldiers learning how to be entrepreneurs
Maurice Day spent 20 years as a U.S. Army munitions specialist, a job that took him to Iraq, Germany, Hawaii and Turkey. This week, he’ll begin a different career—starting a chain of barbecue restaurants.
Day, 48, is a student in the first class of VetStart, a pilot program developed by the University of Louisville’s College of Business to help military veterans start their own businesses.
Ten veterans will go through the course this year, including five starting Feb. 21 and another five starting in September. Each will undergo 10 weeks of entrepreneurship training through the Kauffman FastTrac program and will be eligible to receive up to $2,500 for business start-up expenses, said Sharon Kerrick, a UofL business professor who designed the program.
Students then will meet twice a month for a year with mentors at UofL’s business college who will continue to help them develop their businesses.
“We’ll teach them how to do strategic planning, build a support network and acquire other skills essential to starting a successful business,” Kerrick said.
Day now sells Moe-licious BBQ — his signature pulled pork cooked in a tomato and vinegar based sauce — from a food truck in Jeffersontown. His goal is to open a permanent storefront that he eventually can leverage into a statewide restaurant chain.
“I’ve been cooking barbecue for 30 years and I get a lot of positive comments from the people who eat it,” said Day, a Hopkinsville, Ky., native. “I’m ready to make selling it my main job.”
Louisville native Kevin Schindler, 54, another VetStart student, spent four years in the Marine Corps as a ground radar repairman. He wants to launch a business that will help homeowners and small businesses in Kentucky save money by making their buildings more energy efficient.
“A lot of large organizations are doing this already, but I think there’s an untapped market for consultants who offer this service to private residents and smaller firms,” he said.
Ashlee Richards, 28, earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Louisville while serving in the Kentucky Air National Guard. She’s taking the VetStart course to fulfill her lifelong dream of opening a wine-tasting bar.
“I’ve worked in the restaurant business and I’ve always loved it,” she said. “But there are things I need to learn more about, like the financial aspects of running a business.”
UofL’s business college and president’s office collaborated with the Kentucky Veterans Program Trust Fund to launch VetStart, with the trust fund providing a $50,000 grant for the program.
The university steadily has ramped up its services for military and veteran students over the past several years, opening a new office to serve them in 2009. UofL also has entered into two formal cooperative agreements with the military — one with Fort Knox and the other with the Kentucky National Guard — in recent months.
This spring, about 790 active military or veteran students are attending UofL.