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Expanded partnership brings a different kind of boot camp to veterans and service members

a man in a military uniform is seen from behind given a salute
Sydney Rae

About 500 military service members, veterans and spouses signed up for 50 spots in an entrepreneur mentoring weekend hosted by the Erlanger, Ky.-based Patriot Boot Camp. That meant the former CEO, Jen Pilcher, had to send a lot of rejection letters. So she reached out to Disabled American Veterans almost a year ago to suggest they join forces to create more opportunities for people.

" 'What about doing this bigger? What about coming together and taking all of DAV's 100-year history and experience with veterans and their families and our experience in the entrepreneurship community?' " she says she told them. "We do not want to duplicate efforts. And that conversation really, just … continued to morph."

Patriot Boot Camp was acquired by DAV just before the new year.

Pilcher, who's now the national director of the DAV Patriot Boot Camp, says there's usually two or three entrepreneur mentoring and networking weekends a year. But they hope to start offering more.

"So fortunately, now with DAV, we're able to expand that program and grow larger because it is a competitive application-based program," she said.

The program offers military service members, veterans and their spouses the chance to have group and one-on-one networking and mentoring opportunities. She says they face unique challenges when launching business ventures.

"They've spent time serving our country and a lot of times during that period of time, many civilians might be going to business school or graduate school and able to develop the skills in order to start a business," she says. "And what's interesting is ... the military does provide, actually, a phenomenal entrepreneurial training ground — everything from leadership to team building to managing large budgets. But we find that as they're transitioning out of the military, they don't feel confident that they have yet the important network for building a business."

DAV Spokesperson Dan Clare says DAV has over a million members it helps with job training and employment.

"But getting in touch with these entrepreneurs and seeing how they can contribute back to our mission is important as well," he says. "So we're going to be talking to them about their benefits; we're going to be talking to them about volunteer opportunities; scholarships that we offer; and legislative efforts are going to help, especially service disabled veteran-owned small businesses. So we're just really excited to get in the mix and get some programs going and start helping more veterans."

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, military-owned businesses represent almost 10% of all U.S. businesses and contribute billions to the economy through employment.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.