Written By MATT STYPULKOSKI, Special to The Courant
2:51 pm, October 10, 2013
STORRS – Sometimes, we can all use a helping hand.
For the EBV Foundation, those on the receiving end, are veterans with big-time business ambitions.
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, as its full name reads, caters to service members like Pat Nelligan and Gulaid Ismail, who have ideas for start-up businesses but need training in self-employment and running a business.
"The course has taught me that you don't want to sell but you want to talk to customers," Ismail, a student in the program, said. "You want to have a reason to relate to them and you shouldn't sell on just price point. You shouldn't sell just because you want to move inventory. It changed my whole outlook on business."
A Hartford resident, Ismail is one of 24 students currently enrolled in the UConn-sponsored branch of the course, which is broken down into two parts. The current crop of veterans-turned-students is on the Storrs campus until Friday. The group had the chance to attend UConn's football practice Tuesday afternoon and will be honored on the field during its game against South Florida Saturday.
Before arriving in Storrs, accepted students use a two-week study online to prepare for a nine-day residency and crash course on the UConn campus.
While on campus, Nelligan, a Bristol native who graduated from the program in 2011 and returns each year to share his experience with current students, says the veterans have plenty to keep themselves busy. Nelligan was deployed in Kuwait in 2002 and continues to serve in the Army Reserve.
Among the topics of discussion in the daily instruction are strategic planning, utilizing social media, marketing and accounting. The classes and seminars are taught by professors from the UConn School of Business, which is one of seven schools across the country to partner with the EVB Foundation.
For two years after graduation, students have access to legal support, graphic design, social media and marketing help. Each veteran also leaves campus with a surprise gift – a new $1,000 Brooks Brothers suit and a new Dell laptop, fully loaded with software.
"If you're walking around in a brand new suit – especially an expensive suit – it does something to your self-esteem that is just empowering," Ismail said. "So when we saw the brand new laptop with all of the things added onto it, brand new suit and things of that nature, it was definitely empowering and it was like, 'We're here to help, we believe in you, here are the keys to the success.'"
Those keys to success have helped Nelligan create and develop Wiper Booties, a product designed to protect and enhance the performance of windshield wipers.
"I have an MBA," Nelligan said, "and literally what I've learned through this program, the MBA couldn't even come close because the MBA teaches you business, this teaches you how to run your own business. They're not always the same."
For Ismail, the plan is to take the teachings and use them to perfect the infant clothing line, Dribblebabies, which he and his wife started in April. Ismail, who served in a peacekeeping unit in Iraq and sustained post-traumatic stress disorder, says the camaraderie between peers will last far beyond the end of the week.