Rider University’s Veteran Entrepreneurship Training program, which enters its ninth year this summer, is currently accepting applications.
Offered through the school’s Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, the free, seven-week course is open to veterans, and their spouses or dependents. From May 16 to June 29, participants will learn how to develop a business concept and explore its feasibility.
Students will conduct market research, draft a market plan and study operations and financials for their business. Classes meet online on Mondays and in-person on the Rider campus on Wednesday evenings.
Center for Entrepreneurial Studies Founder and Associate Dean of Graduate Programs Ron Cook developed the program in 2014 when Grand Bank President Mark Wolters, one of Cook’s former students, approached him in hopes of supporting military veterans in their entrepreneurial pursuits.
“He wanted to do something more meaningful and helpful for veterans rather than just putting a sign in the lobby saying ‘we’re vet friendly,’” Cook said.
As Cook designed a curriculum, Wolters helped support the creation of the program. Wolters has since passed away, but the program persists with the support of the New Jersey Bankers Association and the Uncommon Individual Foundation, a mentor-based learning nonprofit organization based in Pennsylvania.
Cook said that this type of training, with its length and depth, could typically run between $2,000 and $3,000.
“We have people coming in at all different parts of their entrepreneurship journey. We have people investigating the basic idea ‘should I be starting anything?’ and some end up saying, ‘this isn’t for me, I didn’t realize it was this complex.’ We have other folks who come in with a business concept and they come in to look at its feasibility, and we have others that are looking to grow their business to a new line of inquiry,” Cook said. “We typically start out with 20 students in each cohort, and we typically have two-thirds of the participants finish.”
Some who don’t complete the course get caught up in other life events, including being called into active duty. For the ones who don’t finish because entrepreneurship isn’t what they thought it would be, Cook still counts those as a success.
“One of the things that’s equally important is when someone decides this isn’t a good idea. Rather than someone realizing after they sunk in a lot of money, for someone to decide not to do it is as valid an outcome as someone who everything works out fine for as they pursued it,” Cook said.
Heading in the right direction
For Melissa Stubblefield, though, it worked out just fine. Stubblefield, a Marine Corps veteran, had started Inspiring Purpose Consulting and Coaching LLC be-fore completing the program in 2019, but she said she “didn’t do much with it” beforehand.
“Being a minority within a minority within a minority — a mixed-raced African American Hispanic female military veteran woman who is coming out of the military and starting out on her own — it’s not always easy. We come from a place where we want to do things on our own, so we don’t necessarily ask for help,” Stubblefield said. “To find that there’s a program out there like Rider’s … I tell people about it all the time.”
Stubblefield gained clarity for the direction she wanted to pursue with her business from Rider’s Veteran Entrepreneurship Training program, and it gave her the drive she needed to move forward and step out of her full-time job with the state and into something entirely self-directed. She now consults for people who are looking into starting their own business, with an added angle: life coaching.
“Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle change. Sometimes they don’t realize that they have to change everything—the way they think, the way they move. If you don’t work and grind, you’re not gonna get paid. Any other type of job, you can get vacation, but if you don’t work hard for your business, it makes no sense to even have one,” Stubblefield said.
Since completing the program, Stubblefield started a nonprofit called Angels Live after losing her grandmother to COVID-19. The organization caters to those who have lost their jobs or family members due to the virus, as well as homeless veterans and victims of military sexual trauma.
Greg Fontaine’s Pennington-based construction business A&E Construction was already more than a decade old when he took the course in 2016, but the Air Force veteran said he still found it useful.
“I’m the type of person that always likes to learn. One thing they helped everyone with – and something I’d never done officially – was create a business plan. They also showed everyone how to maximize the library. You can find out statistics on the business you’re in—strategizing, almost like people who are good at sports, to dig a little deeper, to make sure if you’re thinking of starting a [business],” you know what you’re getting into, he explained.
“Sometimes you can think you have a good business model, but you find out you’re gonna run out of money or not generate a profit for five or seven years. A lot of times when starting a business, people will only look at the positive aspects. They think they’re gonna make so much money, and that it’ll be just be great; and they forget the cost of the building they rent out, what employee salaries do to impact what you have to sell a product for,” Fontaine said. “[Rider] takes them through all the aspects of running their own business. It was interesting and helpful, and in my case, reinforcing.”
Applications for Rider’s Veteran Entrepreneurship Training program will be accepted through May 12. Slots are limited as registration is on a first come, first serve basis.