DeSheun Hines built bridges and cleared land mines as a Marine Corps combat engineer stationed in Iraq. Turns out the experience provided an ample training ground for his new career as an entrepreneur.
"Actually, the stress level in combat was a little easier," joked the 28-year-old, who finished his military service last January.
Now a full-time student, Hines and his wife, Patricia, are each in the process of building businesses and gaining guidance from Hillsborough Community College's Veteran's Entrepreneurship Training Symposium. The second annual event is scheduled for Nov. 15 at HCC's Brandon campus.
The all-day program is a "how-to" seminar for veterans, active duty personnel and their spouses who are thinking about starting a business or taking their existing small business to the next level. The symposium lets participants meet and network with successful entrepreneurs and get their questions answered. Instead of a typical trade show where vendors try to recruit veterans, the symposium offers real-world experience with sessions on the financial side of business ownership. Topics will include incorporation versus LLC versus SCorp,marketing, crowd sourcing and the pros and cons of franchising.
"We wanted a day where people could really make a decision about entrepreneurship," said Beth Kerly, a business faculty member at HCC.
The highlight of the event is a business pitch contest inspired by the TV show Shark Tank. Veterans offer up their business idea and get feedback from a panel of successful local business owners. The top three winners will take away business grants from $1,000 to $3,000.
"We want to make sure people have ideas with merit before they invest all their money," Kerly said. "It's also about nurturing the spirit and helping people reach their goals."
She and fellow educator, Andy Gold, co-founders of HCC's Entrepreneurship Program, got the idea for the veterans' symposium when they realized that business ownership was one of the major goals of servicemen and women who are about to leave the military.
The need couldn't be more relevant, since as many as 1,900 HCC students identify as veterans.
Helping veterans is also the focus of Hines' educational consulting businesses, which he's working to launch later this year. Hines' has found that many veterans don't know how to translate their military skills into the civilian job force and end up underemployed and unfulfilled careerwise. He believes entrepreneurship is an excellent fit for many veterans.
"When we get out (of the service), we already have leadership skills," Hines said. "We're training to take tasks and adapt to different environments, and that's what you have to do as an entrepreneur."
Hines and his wife admit every day is a challenge, but say the end result is worth it.
"People have to be willing to put in the work and not be afraid," said Patricia Hines. "People should jump in."
Contact Candace Rotolo at [email protected]