Conference to help veterans become entrepreneurs
When CWO4 Wayne Blanks retired from the Navy in 1998, he and his wife helped their youngest son start a landscaping business, J & H Lawn Service.
As a novice entrepreneur, Blanks, who had spent 22 years in aviation electronics, initially missed the structure that the military provided.
“I was used to being told what uniform to wear, when to be somewhere and so forth,” he said. “And then all of a sudden, there was no structure. All of those decisions became ours then.”
Blanks will speak at “Veterans Transitioning to Entrepreneurship,” an annual conference for veterans at all stages of small business ownership. Hosted by the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center, the event is from 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Peninsula Workforce Development Center in Hampton.
“It’s a business development session,” said Debra Hamilton Farley, associate executive director of the SBDC and PWDC. “In the Hampton Roads area, as you know, we have clients coming from the military bases to receive information about transitioning into entrepreneurship as they plan to exit the military.”
The conference, strategically scheduled for the week before Veterans Day, will introduce attendees to agencies, organizations and institutions that can help them bridge the gap between military service and entrepreneurship. Non-veterans are also welcome to attend, Farley said.
Regional business experts will participate in the conference’s various panels, starting with “Building a Solid Foundation,” led by attorney Tier Burks, who has offices in Hampton and Newport News.
“The first panel will actually consist of people that they need to build relationships with if they’re going to start new businesses,” Farley said. “And that would include a lawyer, an insurance rep, an accountant, lenders, as well as e-commerce, website development and other Internet issues.”
Other panels are “Launching a New Product,” “Taking the Business to a New Level” and “Doing Business with the State.” A question and answer period will follow each presentation.
Panelists will represent the Veterans Business Outreach Center at ODU, SunTrust, the Retail Alliance and the eVA procurement program at the Virginia Department of General Services, among others.
Each year, Farley tailors the conference to address topics that have been particularly troublesome for her clients. The “Merchant Accounts” panel, for example, will explain how to establish a portal to accept credit card payments from customers.
The Superior Group, a California- based lender, will discuss recent revisions to Patriot Express, a loan program for veterans that’s administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Attendees can also apply for loans between $5,000 and $25,000.
Blanks, 62, said veterans must do the legwork and actively seek out such resources if they want their businesses to succeed.
“One of the biggest things is to do in-depth research, to understand there are many opportunities that are available to them and that, with very few exceptions, they don’t come knocking to beat the door down to help you. It’s something you have to know and go after to get assistance.”
His Hampton-based company has benefited from the SBDC’s “NxLeveL Entrepreneur” classes, which helped J & H double its revenue in two years. An S-corp that’s primarily owned by wife Carolyn and son Daniel, the landscaping business is actually a parttime venture for Blanks himself, who does contract work for Naval Air Systems Command.
“It was a family venture,” he said of J & H. “My youngest son wanted to do lawn care and landscaping as a profession. So we were doing it to assist him. He does the work, and we try to manage the books and the contracts.”
The conference is sponsored by the State Farm Insurance office in Newport News and Always Special Catering, a veteran-owned family-run business in Hampton.
“The biggest transition for veterans,” Farley said, “is knowing what to do or finding the resources that are available. That’s one reason we offer this – so they will know who is in place to assist them with what.”
If you go
What Veterans Transitioning to Entrepreneurship conference
When Nov. 8. Doors open at 8:15 a.m. for networking.
Conference is from 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where Peninsula Workforce Development Center, 600 Butler
Farm Road, Hampton
Who Veterans at all stages of small business ownership are
encouraged to attend.
Cost $10 (includes continental breakfast and lunch)
Register By Nov. 2 here.