Annapolis veteran training program graduates head into business world
Tim Longmire wants to start a business that eventually provides 24-hour grooming and other services to dogs.
First, he needs a storefront. And financing. And a bunch of other things he wasn’t sure about until he entered Project Opportunity. The Navy veteran is part of the first Annapolis group to be involved in a 10-week program that teaches veterans how to become entrepreneurs. As a result, he and his wife plan to move forward with Bark, Bathe, Board & Beyond by 2015 at the latest.
“(The program) had very knowledgeable people in the field and you could ask them anything you wanted. You didn’t have to sit on the phone,” said Longmire, an Arnold resident who was once stationed at Pearl Harbor. He added that he thinks his military training prepared him for the entrepreneurial lifestyle.
“One of the key things that was always beaten in my head is details, details, details. You’ve got to pay attention to details and you’ve got to adapt.”
In 2010, the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation launched Project Opportunity as a way to help veterans who wanted to start a business on the Eastern Shore. Since then, 26 have completed the program.
This year, the Annapolis Economic Development Corp. partnered with the Salisbury organization and the state Technology Development Corp. to offer the free program locally. Eighty veterans applied and that was later whittled down to the 11 who completed the courses. Two more events are being planned in the county, and they will launch in the winter and spring.
Statistics show that veteran-owned firms have annual sales of $1.2 trillion, nearly 6 million employees and a payroll of about $210 billion. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2012 report on veteran-owned firms found that veterans represented 9 percent of all companies in the country in 2007, the latest statistics available. That included roughly 54,000 firms in Maryland with $25 million in sales, according to the report.
At last week’s graduation ceremony at Loews Annapolis, Project Opportunity veterans were encouraged to look to Marine Maj. Rob Dyer for inspiration.
The Annapolis resident launched RuckPack — a vitamin and energy shot — with his military friends. After a series of challenges, he landed on ABC’s Shark Tank last year. He gained a $150,000 deal with Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjavec getting a 20 percent stake in the company.
Since then, the company has made $500,000 and has signed a national deal with Walgreens.
Still, his sleepless nights have not ended, and he encouraged Project Opportunity participants not to give up their day jobs immediately. He continues to teach at the Naval Academy.
“You stay flexible and you grind. You grind like nobody else can because nobody else knows what veteran life is like,” said Dyer, who was the keynote speaker at Project Opportunity’s graduation ceremony.
“If somebody says ‘Man, this is tough,’ this isn’t boot camp tough. … It’s not that bad. I didn’t even get shot at today, yet. When that becomes your fallback matrix, you figure out you can do anything.”
Brenda Dilts led the Project Opportunity sessions, which were held on Tuesday evenings at Maryland Hall. Each night included a guest speaker, as well as information on marketing, financing and management. The goal was to get participants to apply what they learned to their own business plan.
Their final project was to whittle their goals down to a three- to five-minute pitch speech, which they delivered at the graduation ceremony. In front of family and friends, they pitched plans that included nanny services, cellular phones, technical consultation and diabetes research.
Navy veteran Jimmie Bell’s signature phrase “Fluck It” is being sold on T-shirts, jackets and other apparel through his website, Fluck-It.com. He aims to use it to encourage positive thinking among teenagers and other young people.
“My message to them is ‘fluck it,’ ” Bell said in his pitch speech. “You control your destiny. You control what happens to you. If you want to do something, say you’re going to do it. Put the ball in motion and start making it happen. Fluck it, no matter what somebody tells you.”