The following article was originally written by Emilie Eastman on Monday, March 4, 2013, For The Capital. The original article can be found online here: Capital Gazette – Article on Project Opportunity.
Joe Giordano says it’s a no brainer.
The retired U.S. Army Master Sergeant started Project Opportunity to provide military veterans free business startup training. Through a 10-week program based off the NxLeveL for Entrepreneurs business program, Maryland veterans will research, develop and eventually create their own businesses.
“I think it’s something they’ve earned,” Giordano said.
Giordano launched his entrepreneur program three years ago and has 35 graduates. This spring, Project Opportunity is expanding from the nine counties of the Eastern Shore where it began to Columbia and Southern Maryland, reaching Annapolis by the end of the summer.
Annapolis Economic Development Corp. is partnering with Project Opportunity’s Annapolis branch. She said the program could make a significant impact on the city that is home to the U.S. Naval Academy and scores of retired veterans.
“I hope to see every veteran who goes through Project Opportunity in Annapolis ultimately start their own business,” said AEDC CEO Lara Fritts. “We hope they’ll be able to grow here.”
Fritts, whose husband and father are veterans, said her group “really liked the veteran component to this, and knowing Joe was a veteran himself made it a great opportunity.”
Giordano is the executive director of the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation and owns a consulting and training company. When he started Project Opportunity, he was looking for veterans who were “focused and knew what type of business they would like to start,” he said.
He wanted to give them the tools they needed to succeed because, “you can’t start a business without a business plan,” he said.
Giordano is expanding his program beyond the Bay Bridge after veterans across the state requested classes closer to their homes, he said. The three new programs are already funded, including textbooks for the participants.
The graduates of Project Opportunity have developed or expanded business plans that run the gamut, including a website development company, a clothing design business, a private investigation and security company, a bakery and a dog-breeding business, Giordano said. Participants range in age from 20 to 60 and are split almost evenly between male and female, he said.
Adrian Holmes said Giordano’s program is rigorous. The 50-year-old Ridgely resident served in the Air Force for 15 years. She said Project Opportunity is challenging but rewarding.
“When I met Joe … he was very tough,” she said. “He wouldn’t even send us classwork until we went to the first class.”
Holmes partnered with another Project Opportunity participant, Jermaine Anderson, 40, of Cambridge. They merged their businesses to create TNT Moving and Cleaning by Design
The firm offers moving and interior design services. The merger gives clients more bang for their buck because people who are moving often need help designing or re-designing, Holmes said.
TNT currently provides services across Maryland and has even been as far as Connecticut, Texas and Florida, she said.
Holmes said the program sends an important message.
“I think this program epitomizes who veterans are as citizens — their creativity and their camaraderie,” she said. “When we … run our businesses, we go to it like we’re going to Iraq. That’s just how we roll.”
Anderson said the program is based on universal principals and forces participants to adopt an entrepreneurial outlook.
“I think [Project Opportunity] should be a national program,” he said.
Graduating is not a simple feat. The programs requiring about 15 hours of homework per week. Before entering, Giordano gives interested veterans a 45-minute screening assessment.
Then, he chooses the best candidates. While some candidates are put on a waiting list, Giordano said they can re-apply.
Giordano has high standards for enrollees.
“They call me a drill sergeant because I work them hard,” he said. “But I think by the end of 10 weeks, when they see their business plan come together, they appreciate the time and effort they put into it.”