Boots to Business


While on the installations, VBOC staff provide one-to-one counseling to those Servicemembers who request it. Often, they seek contact information for business advisors located in the communities to which they are transitioning. Even more often, they ask for guidance on locating market and industry research and funding.

Servicemembers readily engage in the B2B training and typically pose questions around: programs for veterans; grants to start small businesses; low interest loan programs; spouse eligibility; tax breaks for hiring veterans; writing a business plan; benefits for disabled veterans; and the differences between business structures. Among some of the more common industries Servicemembers tend to explore are: real estate development; cyber security and surveillance; microbreweries; indoor and outdoor shooting ranges; healthcare; childcare and education; and restaurants.

“Establishing a small business really is “rocket science.”
~Robert Lunnie, Veteran Business Owner, AeroSpace Science Academy

VBOC staff discovered that an effective strategy for program delivery is to include veteran small business owners who have been in operation for five years or less to share their experiences, challenges and “parting words of wisdom.” For example, at Malmstrom AFB, Air Force veterans Thad and Heidi Reiste, co-owners of Electric City Coffee in Great Falls, and recipients of the Governor’s Small Business Award, assist with B2B training when available. Among the topics they share are: bootstrapping no-cost and low-cost programs like Square for credit card processing; the challenge of securing qualified employees, the very high costs of providing health care and other employee benefits; and some of the alternatives they offer (paid time off for hourly employees, free meals, among others). Thad emphasizes that, despite significantly outpacing the revenues they projected, they are still living off their military retirement incomes. Heidi added that both she and Thad make less money than their employees and each work 12-14-hour days 6-7 days per week. More than any of the training modules, the Reiste’s presentation seems to make the greatest impact on the Service members’ understanding of the dedication and commitment required to own a successful small business.

Likewise, Malmstrom’s transitioning airmen seemed to most appreciate the presentation by veteran small business owner, Robert Lunnie. Lunnie is in the first few years of establishing his AeroSpace Science Academy business that provides professional training in space science and aerospace management. He joked that, for him, establishing a small business really is “rocket science.” Integrating nascent veteran small business owners into the curricula is a “best practice” the VBOC uses for Reboot and other entrepreneurial development training as well. In fact, VBOC staff invited Robert to keynote the Reboot event in Great Falls during National Veterans Small Business Week.

Reboot training is the same curricula as Boots to Business but condensed to one- day and offered to members of the military who have already transitioned back to civilian life. The VBOC’s approach to these trainings is to mobilize, leverage and showcase the local business community in which VBOC offers the training.

“It was almost like I could have skipped 4 years of college and tuition and just taken that free course.”
~Military spouse who attended the November 1, 2016 Reboot in Great Falls, Montana

VBOC staff leverage BSED’s experts to offer entrepreneurial development training as well. For example, VBOC partnered with the Small Business Development Center, Procurement Technical Assistance Center, Montana Small Business Administration and Big Sky Economic Development to offer a Business Strategies, a free one-day series of small business training and workshops addressing marketing and branding, websites and search engine optimization, legal documents, Quickbooks, succession planning, human resources and access to capital. VBOC Director Sara Hudson, MT PTAC Director Deanna Langman and SBDC Business Consultant Chad Moore co-presented a workshop on programs available to help businesses grow and diversify. Approximately 130 participants attended the event hosted by the Billings Public Library.

Among many other training events, VBOC staff trained veteran Native American small business owners at the Native American Development Council’s Nation Building conference, offering specific tools, strategies and programs promoting Native American vetrepreneurs at both start up and developed stages.

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