Stillwater News Press

February 7, 2013

Oklahoma State program helps veterans start businesses

By Chase Rheam
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — A program at Oklahoma State University aims to assist disabled veterans in their business ventures.

The 2013 Disabled Veterans Entrepreneurship Program is in its fourth year of working with veterans with big ideas.

For one such veteran, Eric Bashaw, that means opening a communications company.

“I want to open a communications company that does wiring inside buildings,” he said. “It’s called structural cabling for data and phone networks and some outside cabling, the copper and fiber optics cables that trunk the signals from point A to point B.”

Bashaw served in the Marines for 13 years and as a civilian for the Marine Corps for an addition six to seven years learning and completing the same task. He hopes to take his knowledge and use it to start a business. He said the program is helping get answers to questions he’s had.

“Any industry is big money, so anything that you do is big money,” he said. “Somebody is going to profit from it. It’s going to cost a lot of money to get it done. It’s kind of overwhelming, but I think you learn here that it’s possible.”

Bashaw said he has been learning how to work through funding, paperwork and networking. He spoke with others in the program gaining knowledge in human resources, construction and other areas.

Founder of the program Michael Morris said those veterans accepted to the program pay for nothing including flights, accommodations, meals, books and instruction. The price for hosting the program is approximately $150,000 a year, Morris said.

“It’s a big investment and we do it as a privilege,” he said. “We serve them. They served us. But, it’s not simply an interesting educational program.

If they’re not starting businesses, we’re failing. If they start businesses that are not sustainable and growing, we’ve failed. So, our message to them is come to Stillwater, have an amazing experience, but the pressure is not on us, it’s on you. You’ve got to produce. You’ve got to make this thing happen.”

More than 40 veterans from across the United States, but mainly Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma were part of the program this year.

Morris said the program begins with recruitment and those chosen start in early December with a six-week online program that gets them acquainted with each other. They read and post ideas for a venture that hasn’t started and one of the concepts that has started. The group then takes it apart and critiques it. After those six weeks, the group spends an arduous eight days at OSU learning many aspects.

“It’s literally drinking from a firehose from the exposure that they get,” Morris said. “And we tell them, for your particular business, some of these are more relevant, some are less, so don’t try to get every last thing.”

The veterans then graduate and carry on with a 10-month mentoring process where they are assigned a mentor and meet with them every other week.

Bashaw said he is enjoying the atmosphere on campus and said it’s hard to portray to others. He said he will likely encourage other veterans to look into the program.

“I would love to come back here as an older man and tell people that they can also be a success and they don't always have to work for somebody else; that the possibilities are there,” Bashaw said. “That would be really cool.”