Helping ‘vetrepreneurs’ achieve their dreams

For our veterans and their families – who often face profound medical as well as financial adjustments to civilian life – embracing entrepreneurship isn’t always easy to do. Now Iona College is helping to give them a leg up as part of a multimillion-dollar federal pilot program.

Entrepreneur — A person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss to make money. One who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.
— Merriam-Webster

If Covid-19 and its band of variants have underscored anything, it’s that work — and perhaps more important, people’s relationship to work — has long been evolving.

“The nature of work has shifted. Work has shifted,” says Christoph Winkler, founding director of the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Iona College in New Rochelle.

Work is no longer a four-letter word defined only by a 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday schedule teased out over 20 years at a brick-and-mortar company that in the end offers you a gold watch and a pension, if that.

Rather, “working remotely” — what used to be called telecommuting — and “coworking spaces” are some of the buzz phrases that made their debut even before the pandemic hit. 

“Communal workspaces started to bubble up in 2006,” Winkler says.

Along with this tectonic shift has come another — from thinking about entrepreneurship as a business or career model solely to viewing it as an individual philosophy.

“People are embracing entrepreneurship not only for work but as a mindset,” Winkler says. They are, he adds, recognizing the need to take calculated risks and identify the work situation they’re in — or want to be in — rather than allow larger forces to dictate it.

For our veterans and their families — who often face profound medical as well as financial adjustments to civilian life — that’s not always easy to do. Now Iona College is helping to give them a leg up as part of a multimillion-dollar federal pilot program. 

The 82-year-old, private, Roman Catholic college and its Hynes Institute — established in 2017 with an unprecedented gift of $15 million from alumni James P. Hynes and wife Anne Marie to foster business creativity and leadership — have been selected by Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) to take part in its Community Navigator Pilot Program, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The announcement was made at Iona in a Dec. 8 press conference with Winkler; U.S. Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman;  Iona College President Seamus Carey, PhD;  Mark Madrid, associate administrator in the SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurial Development;  Diedra Henry-Spires, senior adviser for Covid Programs, SBA;   Marlene Cintron, Atlantic Regional administrator, SBA; New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson; and  City Councilwoman Martha Lopez.

Overall, the nationwide, $5 million program — part of the American Rescue Plan Act — will provide businesses and start-ups run by “vetrepreneurs” or their spouses with entrepreneurship education, small-business technical assistance, loan preparation, access to capital and capital readiness, corporate and federal contracting and networking. As one of several participating organizations, including Florida State University, St. Joseph’s University and Texas A&M University, Iona has received more than $350,000 to work with vets and military spouses locally and nationally beginning in March.

“Supporting our veteran and military spouse businesses through entrepreneurship training and technical assistance is core to our mission at Iona College,” Winkler said in a statement after our phone interview. “We are honored to join the IVMF as a partner to do this important work over the next two years.” 

Housed in a 3,800-square-foot, state-of-the-art coworking space at 715 North Ave., the Hynes Institute will be setting up operations at its 2-year-old GaelVentures Virtual Incubator at 785 North Ave. to help veterans with their business needs, Winkler says, including planning, financing, marketing, filing tax returns and, if necessary, setting up an LLC. The institute will call on lawyers and accountants — two professions intricately entwined with any business — “and will involve faculty to provide expertise.” 

Named for the college’s sports teams, GaelVentures brings together student entrepreneurs, alumni, business mentors and industry experts in a 10-week immersive program that takes the students from their concept to the marketplace. Now it’s the veterans’ turn. 

“This is truly exciting for IVMF and Iona College,” Michael Haynie, Ph.D., Syracuse University’s vice chancellor for Strategic Initiatives & Innovation, Barnes professor of entrepreneurship and IVMF executive director, said in a statement. “Over the next two years, this program has the potential to impact thousands of veterans and families we serve. It is also a wonderful recognition of IVMF and Iona College’s partnership to provide veteran entrepreneurship education programs. Joining with a network of local providers like the Hynes Institute allows for individual attention that understands the nuances of operating in the Westchester community and beyond. This broadens our national impact, having developed a vast network of alumni and partners who are dedicated to meeting the unique needs of veterans and military-connected families.”

The Hynes Institute will avail itself of some of IVMF’s best programs, including Boots to Business (B2B), Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) and the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV), which have helped more than 75,000 participants.

IVMF — one of only eight Tier 1 grantees selected as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s $100 million Community Navigator Pilot Program — has also launched two virtual entrepreneurship programs. EBV Spark and R.I.S.E. (Resilience, Innovate, Sustain, Evaluate) aid veteran military spouse entrepreneurs in adapting to the pandemic economy. The success rate is superb:  92% of these entrepreneurs are still in business.

If IVMF and the Hynes Institute have their way, many more will be joining them.

“The goal,” Haynie has said, “is for military-connected clients to receive efficient, timely and comprehensive access to the services and resources they need, where they are and when they need them in their entrepreneurial journey.”

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