A&M Program Helps Disabled Veterans Starts Small Businesses

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COLLEGE STATION - Passing by, you'd never suspect the classroom in the Center for Executive Development at the Texas A&M Mays Business School was any different. 25 students, sitting at desks, eagerly soaking up information. It might appear normal, but you'd be wrong.

Each student is a veteran with a disability.

Veterans disabled while serving our country can face challenges trying to adapt to civilian life. A special course at A&M is catered to those who have served and come back changed. This boot camp for veterans with disabilities is a fast track to turn them into small business owners. Despite their individual disabilities, the class plays on each veteran's strengths.

"They're getting very, very powerful lessons," said Blake Petty. He's the new director of the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M. Lessons learned during this course aren't unlike the lessons learned on the battlefield. Each veteran comes home with a set of highly refined skills. Petty says this course is about taking ideas and turning them into reality.

"That's the fascinating part," said Petty.

"Many of them came with their own dreams, their own ideas. As they begin to network with each other, and with other business leaders here locally, some have begun to change those ideas," he continued. The program at A&M is part of a nation-wide effort. Nationally, businesses that start from this course create 1,100 jobs and nearly $40 million. 68 percent of businesses created within six months survive.

Petty says the veterans have learned to understand what their personal passion and now they're learning how to put that passion into play in the business world. For small business owners like Terry Bruner, there are a lot of moments that hit home.

"If I had known half of this when I started my business a couple of years ago," laughed Bruner. He runs a small Houston law firm. This course is allowing him to shape new ideas for businesses.

"You sacrificed so much. Now invest in yourself. Go do something positive. Do something rewarding and help the community the community at the same time," continued Bruner. It's advice that almost sounds like marching orders. Not that these veterans would mind.

The course is absolutely free to the veterans that qualify. This is Texas A&M's seventh year to host the program.