Seven years ago Marine Corps veteran John Raftery was starting a contracting firm in Dallas when he read an article about a small business training program for veterans with disabilities. That’s when the trajectory of his two-person company, Patriot Contractors, Inc., took a fortunate left turn.
“I applied immediately for the EBV program,” Raftery said. The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) program had just started at Syracuse University in New York, and Raftery was part of the inaugural EBV class in August 2007.
Thanks to the EBV program, Raftery said, the first critical steps toward building a successful construction firm were smart ones. “I don’t think the business would have grown as quickly if not for the EBV program,” he said. In 2012, Patriot Contractors, Inc. was on the Inc. (magazine) 500 list of the fastest growing U.S. companies, earning annual revenues of $5.3 million.
The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Veterans Business Development has partnered with several top universities to offer the EBV course. Since the program began at Syracuse University in 2007, more than 700 wounded warriors have completed the nine-day training course. The program focuses on helping transitioning veterans with disabilities make the shift to self-employment, develop professional networks, and start and grow sustainable businesses.
“SBA is committed to serve the veterans who have served America,” said SBA Regional Administrator Yolanda Garcia Olivarez. “Their military careers have developed them to be strong leaders, equipped them with the skills and training to be outstanding entrepreneurs, which ultimately creates jobs and simulates the economy. We are very proud of John Raftery’s service to our country and the creativity he has demonstrated in starting a business. He is supporting not only his family but the community as well”.
Raftery, whose company does interior renovations for clients that have included Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, and Ft. Hood in Killeen, Texas, said that reconnecting with veterans was the initial benefit of the EBV course. “By that time I had been out of the service four years. This was the first time in years that I had been around so many vets. We spoke the same language. The camaraderie helped a lot with the final piece of the transition back to civilian life.”
The training course, Raftery added, also instilled in him the confidence to plan for success. “At first I didn’t know how to start a business but I had the desire. The folks at the EBV program explained how my military experience plays a huge role in entrepreneurship, and they gave us a great blueprint for bridging the gap between serving in the Marines and establishing a profitable business.”
Learning the practical aspects of getting a small business off the ground, said Raftery, was the most useful part of the training. “I had questions, like `how do I write a business plan? What’s a good business concept? How do I get startup capital?’ I found that the course provided a good foundation for me to build on, from the startup phase to growing the business. The teaching was phenomenal.”
Patriot Contractors, Inc. is now based in Waxahachie, and has landed contracts with military installations nationwide. Patriot was part of the award winning team led by Clark McCarthy HealthCare Partners at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton where they installed building specialties throughout the million square foot new hospital. The overall project was completed six months early, and $100 million under budget.
His competitive drive keeps him focused on getting to the next step. “I don’t feel I’ve arrived yet. I know I’m blessed to be an entrepreneur, to be able to drive change in the world.”
That drive, he said, is a quality he shares with most veterans. “And when I talk to vets who are thinking about starting a small business, and they ask me about EBV, I tell them the most important thing I learned in the program was to take more time to plan. If you spend more time planning, you’ll be more successful in the long run.
“If you think running your own company is something you might want to do,” Raftery continued, “explore EBV.”
The Department of Defense designated November as Warrior Care Month, making it a time to honor the courage and sacrifices made by service members, while increasing public awareness of the various programs that help these veterans make the transition to civilian life.
Each year SBA helps more than 200,000 veterans, service-disabled veterans and reservists start and grow their small businesses. To learn more about additional opportunities for veterans available through the SBA, visit www.sba.gov/vets.
For more information about the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, visit http://ebv.vets.syr.edu/