'Boots to Business' Helps Troops Become Entrepreneur

- American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Mar. 24, 2014 - When Sandra Gonzales and Tony Turin were enrolled in the Defense Department's Transition GPS course, they found their career calling through an optional entrepreneur track called "Boots to Business."

The Transition GPS assists service members with re-entering the civilian sector and offers three optional tracks after the basic week-long program for transitioning troops and spouses who are interested in going to technical or vocational schools, attending college, or starting a business. Transition GPS replaces the former Transition Assistance Program.

The Small Business Administration sponsors the optional Boots to Business track with a two-day introduction to the program, followed by an eight-week online course through Syracuse University for students to develop their business plans.

Gonzales, a former Army nurse, is also a military spouse. Married to an artillery Army officer, Gonzales knew she needed a practical business that would offer her family stability.

"I chose the entrepreneurship track because I really needed a career that would offer me flexibility, as well as portability to juggle the roles of spouse, mom and entrepreneur," she said.

Gonzales is in the start-up phase of her business, Docere eLearning Solutions LLC, in Lawton Okla. It's an educational consulting group that creates interactive learning programs for children from kindergarten through 12th grade, the corporate sector and health care organizations.

With a master's degree in nursing leadership and a graduate certificate in health care education, she said, she was not able to find a job in health care information technology that allowed her the flexibility she needed to home-school her children and make the military's frequent moves.

"I [created] my own opportunities to have some longevity with a company and use my degree to help communities I really care about: the military community and the special needs community," Gonzales explained.

Her military training gave her the leadership experience to take on her own business, she said. "I felt very well prepared to become an entrepreneur," she added.

Her classmates shared similar goals and aspirations in the two-day introductory portion of the track, she said, and the eight week online course helped her break down the "formidable task" of writing a comprehensive business plan into smaller, more manageable parts.

Gonsales said her instructors gave her feedback on her assignments and helped her when she needed it.

"Boots to Business really opened a lot of doors for me," she said, adding that she had a lot of mentoring through her local business counselors and access to a lot of resources. "You're surrounded by a very good network of entrepreneurs looking to help you."

Through Boots to Business, Gonzales also received an unexpected boost to her business. She learned during her training that she could enter competitions to earn seed money for her venture. As she focused on her business plan, she kept the competition in mind, she said.

"It not only prepared me to compete, it gave my venture a blueprint of how I'm going to [proceed]," she added.

Gonzales won first place in the initial and final competitions for the best business plan, earning $25,000 at each level for a total of $50,000 as startup money for eLearing Solutions. Using every resource made available to her in Boots to Business, she said, it's surprising what's available through the SBA's entrepreneurial program.

It's vital to use mentoring help and other resources in the Boots to Business program, she said.

"It's just like the military, [where] we couldn't do it alone, and the same holds true for starting a new business," she said. "You need to surround yourself with people who are going to help you and are invested in helping you succeed."

Army Capt. (Dr.) Tony Turin is an optometrist at Womack Army Medical Clinic at Fort Bragg, N.C., who knew he wanted to establish his own clinic when he separates from the military April 18. Like Gonzales, Turin took the mandatory week-long transition GPS course and said the program gave him peace of mind about transitioning back into the civilian sector.

"You're with a group of people in same situation," he explained. "So much of our military lives have been planned out for us, and it can be a pretty intimidating time, knowing you're going to transition and be on your own."

Through Boots to Business, a wealth of knowledge is available to people, he said.

"It opens your eyes to what's available and lets you know as a veteran you won't be left out there on your own," he added. "Those five [Transition GPS] days are worthwhile, [because there is] a network of people there to help you during your transition."

Now in his seventh week of the eight-week online class, Turin said, Boots to Business is helping him refine his business plan for his soon-to-open Mount Hood Eye Care practice in Sandy, Ore., which will open two days after he separates from the Army.

While he had a general business plan in mind before he took Boots to Business, he said, the entrepreneurial track helped him solidify his plan and get rid of unnecessary fluff.

"I thought the online course would be a cookie-cutter [format]," he said. "When you submit assignments, you get personal feedback. It was a very interactive course."

Turin called the Boots to Business track phenomenal. "I went into it thinking I had a good established business plan and ideas about how I wanted to market my business, and the seven weeks has really helped guide and refine it," he said.

Because he's "clinically minded," Turin said, it's helpful to have a professional in marketing, for example, take a look at one's marketing plan. "It's just worth your while to get an expert's opinion, and they're available to us for free."

Turin said students in Boots to Business begin with a concept and build a business plan while they learn about demographics, legal issues, retail, hiring employees, insurance and many more topics essential to starting a business. "If anyone has inclinations to start a business down the road, do it," he said.

He called the initial two-day exposure to starting a business "laid-back," and while a person could have 10 ideas, they're examined in class. A weeding-out process begins to determine what's pertinent to starting a business.

The eight-week online course, he added, "Gets more refined and helps guide and prepare you for the real world. And start early –- it's a great opportunity."

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