Boot Camp Teaches Vets To Work For Themselves

Michael Haynie served 14 years in the U.S. Air Force before becoming an assistant professor at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. He now leads the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, which he founded in 2007 to teach veterans with injuries from Iraq and Afghanistan how to go into business for themselves. Host Michel Martin talks with Haynie, along with Brian Iglesias, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, where he was injured by a roadside bomb. Iglesias completed Haynie's program and is now President and CEO of his own film production company, Veterans Inc.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, is the money in your bank account dwindling while the bills on the other hand continue to pile up? Don't worry, it's not just you. Later in the program, we'll hear from two of our financial experts on tips on how to pay back debt.

But first, we've all heard commercials like this one.

(Soundbite of commercial)

Unidentified Man: Welcome to goarmy.com. You've taken the first step to becoming stronger than you ever imagined you could be. Here you'll discover adventure, the chance to give something back to your country, and the kind of training that truly prepares you for the future.

MARTIN: Of course that's from a military recruitment ad touting the benefits of military service and describing how military service can leave one well prepared for life after the military. But for many veterans reentering civilian life has a slew of challenges, and that can include finding a job. It can be especially challenging for veterans who have suffered war injuries.

So Michael Haynie decided to do something about that. He created the Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities. He teaches vets how to go into business for themselves. And he's with us now. Welcome. Thanks for joining us.

Professor MICHAEL HAYNIE (Founder, Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities): Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: In a moment we're also going to hear from somebody who has been through the bootcamp, so hold on for that. But before we do, Michael, let's start with you. You're an assistant professor at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. You're also a veteran. Thank you for your service. And what led you to create this program?

Prof. HAYNIE: Well, I guess like any entrepreneurial venture, the program was created in response to an opportunity. And in this case, a sobering opportunity. More than 2.5 million Americans have deployed overseas since 2001. And the rate at which they're returning home with disabilities, physical and psychological disabilities is actually unprecedented in U.S. history.

We saw entrepreneurialship and business ownership as a path forward for these men and women, an opportunity for them to create their own job and one that can be crafted in such a way to accommodate some of the challenges they face with regard to their disability.

MARTIN: Well, this sounds like a good opportunity to bring Brian into the conversation. Brian Iglesias enrolled in the program in 2008?

Mr. BRIAN IGLESIAS (President and CEO, Veterans Inc.): That's right.

MARTIN: After serving two combat tours in Iraq and of course I want to thank you for your service also.

Mr. IGLESIAS: You're welcome.

MARTIN: And you now lead your own film production company called Veterans Inc. And I think a lot of people might have this notion that if you come back from serving your country, especially doing a couple of combat tours, that the doors should be flying open for you.

Mr. IGLESIAS: Well, coming home it was, you know, I wanted to be a filmmaker, work in the film industry. I have a film degree. So I'm a Marine infantry officer with a film degree getting off of active duty. And I figured that it would be very easy for me to get a job and build up my resume and then eventually, you know, move in to making my own films and owning a company.

Well, in the Marine Corps, you know, I'm a captain and I walk around with a certain weight. I have the rank on my shoulder, I have command, I have all this authority and responsibility.

But when I come home, I'm just a guy in a shirt. And that doesn't carry any weight for anybody. And I was overqualified for entry level jobs and I was under-experienced for mid-level jobs. So I found myself in a very, very weird position of, well, what do I do now if I can't get a job in the desired industry I want to get into?

MARTIN: Well, the film industry is notoriously difficult. Nobody says just come on in or at least, you know, very few people. But I do wonder why the part of it was that your military service was intimidating for entry level jobs and people just couldn't imagine ordering you to go get coffee. They just couldn't do it. Do you think that might have been part of it?

Mr. IGLESIAS: I think that was part of it. Even now we have meetings in Los Angeles and New York City and we're doing very well and they still kind of don't know what to make of us, because here's these Marines who are combat veterans and they're filmmakers that they almost think it's a hobby for us. They don't really realize it's a passion and a career choice.

I think it's weird. And I think it's for a lot of veterans in a lot of different industries, people just don't really understand how to embrace them. It's not that they're being harsh or mean. It's just that it's so unique. I mean, imagine all these people in business, they're not used to having these young kids who have seen these things that happen in combat, both good and bad, and how do you talk to somebody like that?

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking about the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities. It's a program that helps injured veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan develop skills to go into business for themselves.

We're talking with the founder of the program, Professor Michael Haynie at Syracuse University. We're also talking with Brian Iglesias, who's enrolled in the program.

I do want to ask also about the role of the injury, whether a visible injury or an invisible injury, professor, in the job prospects. And, also, what role this plays in the program. And what I think I heard you say is in part you're encouraging people to tailor jobs to their not just their passions but also whatever their new realities are physically. Do I have that right?

Prof. HAYNIE: You do. And it's a very important point. One of the things that's true about the population of veterans we're talking about is for all of them their disabilities are new. They happen in a moment in time in response to a bomb blast or a gunshot. And reconciling that new reality is often one of the greatest challenges in making the transition from military service to civilian life.

And what's unique about entrepreneurship as a vocational path forward is it's freedom creating. It's empowering. It allows them to both exercise a passion and exercise that passion in a way that will accommodate some of that new reality as a function of what their disabilities are.

And in what we do in the bootcamp, the curriculum is really focused on recognizing what those opportunities and challenges are and helping the veterans see and navigate a path through those challenges.

MARTIN: Brian, do you mind my asking or disclosing that you were injured by an IED in Iraq. And as I understand it, you sustained a back injury that you've recovered substantially from. But do you still have physical effects that you need to accommodate?

Mr. IGLESIAS: I have some physical effects. It was my spine and my neck. I blew a disc out and it crushed the nerve down to my right arm. I have numbness in my wrist and my hand and some muscle spasms and some weakness in my right arm. But to anybody else, you wouldn't know the difference. And Mike would echo this. Some of the injuries that these men and women come back and these things they have to deal with are invisible, whether it's from a concussion injury like myself or it's through, you know, post-traumatic stress, which affects a lot of people. I mean, the things that you see and you go through. And I think that's also an injury that needs to be taken in consideration when we talk about injuries.

MARTIN: And how do you, if you don't mind my asking, in your business, what's the key to shaping a work and professional situation that is best for you? Because making films can be, you know, 24/7. It can be physically demanding or not. It can be emotionally draining. I don't know. So, what's the key for you? Is it having adequate rest? I don't know.

Mr. IGLESIAS: Well, I actually think it's the opposite. We're so used to that in the military that I have Marines and I've seen soldiers and these just brave Americans that are missing arms and/or a leg and they actually continue to serve and they go back to Iraq or Afghanistan.

So these physical injuries, you know, our work ethic and kind of our motto of mission first, it doesn't matter how much pain or how tired you're in, you continue to drive forward and accomplish the mission, you know, take the hill. So I think for the film business for us we thrive in it. We do very, very well, because we're used to be being tired and we're used to being exhausted. And we kind of revel in, you know, being miserable.

But as far as my business, we kind of cheated a little bit and we surrounded ourselves with other veterans. So we hired service disabled veterans on our film crew. And whenever we can, we hire other vets. Because we know what it's like to sometimes feel like you're a stranger in a crowded room. And it's just nice to have the same like people around you. And it's almost therapeutic.

MARTIN: I don't that that I consider that cheating. I think I might consider that smart.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, well, good for you. Professor Haynie, is there I do feel compelled to ask, though, in a recession, do you feel comfortable encouraging people to go out on their own at a time like this when capital is in short supply and small businesses are still having difficulty acquiring capital and all this is well documented. If I could just get your thoughts about that.

Prof. HAYNIE: Yeah, I absolutely do. I would argue this is when and where the opportunities are. I think in the face of some of our economic challenges are opportunities. And what Brian touched on a second ago in terms of work ethic and a focus on the mission, this is one of, in my estimation, our community of veterans is an untapped and unleveraged resource when it comes to business creation.

What Brian and all the other veterans that have gone through the program, what they have as a competitive advantage is they've learned, as a consequence of their military service, those things that are central to success as an entrepreneur. That is that commitment, that single-minded focus on accomplishing the mission. Being able to execute and create something without necessarily having all the resources to do that at your disposal.

MARTIN: We're down to our last couple of minutes. So before I let you go, can you just tell me about some of the other ventures that have emerged from people who have gone through the program? I just want to brag and mention that we featured one of a veteran who is now a soap opera star.

Prof. HAYNIE: Yup, absolutely. J.R. Martinez up at Florida State. And, you know, he's done remarkably well. The businesses our veterans create run the spectrum of their passions. We have one young Marine who went through our program the first year, started a construction company down in outside of Dallas, Texas, came to us with an idea. You know, and sort of a vague plan and two years later he'll do about $3 million in revenue this year, and has five employees, again, all veterans.

We have another young man who also went through the program in Florida State, started a business releasing doves at special events and parties. And, again, doing remarkably well. We have filmmakers. We have consultants. We have counselors. It really does run the spectrum of what they're passionate about, and that's what we encourage that. That, you know, live your passion through entrepreneurship. That really is what we try to help them focus on.

MARTIN: Brian, in the minute we have left with you, tell us about your first film.

Mr. IGLESIAS: Well, it's a documentary film titled "Chosin," C-H-O-S-I-N, about the Korean War. We won best feature documentary at the G.I. Film Festival. We're screening all over the country right now. We're doing a theatrical run in L.A. and New York in early September. We have a TV deal in South Korea. We have people who are looking at us right now for TV in the U.S. We're selling DVDs. We just got into all the Marine Corps exchanges, and they've optioned it for $100 million 3D Korean War action movie titled "17 Days of Winter," and I'm on as an executive producer.

MARTIN: Not too shabby.

Mr. IGLESIAS: Pretty lucky.

MARTIN: Not too shabby. Brian Iglesias is president and CEO of Veterans Inc., a film production company. As he just told you, his first documentary film "Chosin" is about the Korean War. It's currently being shown at several film festivals and he's got all kinds of stuff going on. He was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York.

We were also joined by Michael Haynie. He is the founder of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities. Brian participated in that program. Professor Haynie is an assistant professor at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. And I also should mention, again, that Professor Haynie is a veteran of the Air Force and Brian is a veteran of the Marine Corps. And we thank you both so much for speaking to us.

Prof. HAYNIE: Thank you.

Mr. IGLESIAS: Thank you.

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