A New Career for the Entrepreneur

A New Career for the Entrepreneur

Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur guides soldiers who want to be their own boss

by Laurel Sallie

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The Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur (POE) provides servicemen and women transitioning from the Canadian Armed Forces with the education, financing and mentoring needed to launch and sustain successful businesses. The program combines the strengths of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation’s (CYBF) 16 years experience in mentoring and financing entrepreneurs with Enactus Memorial’s internationally recognized business boot camp for veterans. Managed by Prince’s Charities Canada, the program is administered by the organization’s partners. Pictured, students take part in a business strategy session. (prince’s charities canada)

SOMETIMES LIFE THROWS you a curveball. You have a plan and something happens and now that plan is no longer a possibility. For the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, when a curveball is thrown and his or her military career unexpectedly comes to an end, it can be a struggle.

To cultivate confidence and to grab the reigns back on your own life is an invaluable experience and the Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur, or POE, of the Prince’s Charities Canada, wants to create an opportunity for veterans to take back their reigns.

Determined, dedicated, resilient, and focused, the men and women of the CAF exude all of these characteristics. These are also qualities found in a good entrepreneur. The POE is a charitable program that works to help veterans see that what they learned in the military can be applicable to the business world as well.

In some cases, a daylong seminar can offer the first small taste of what it would mean to be an entrepreneur. The POE is paired with a handful of universities across the country to offer a completely unique insight into the business world.

“I just attended our first French one-day seminar,” said Astrid- Maria Ciarallo, associate at the POE, “and I was engulfed in the class the whole time. At the beginning everyone was a little shy and apprehensive as to what was going to happen. But after getting their feet wet in the first half hour, they were really engaging with the instructor and the people around them.”

The one-day seminars are designed specifically to create this active learning environment where attendees can engage in discussion with each other, instructors, and business school students from the different universities. There is no application process and a background in business is not needed for these preliminary seminars. The day is simply an experience for veterans, and their families, to see what being an entrepreneur is all about.

“These [one-day seminars] are open to anyone in the military, and their families. Because really beginning on this path is a family decision and a family commitment,” continued Ciarallo.

The day is split in half by a complimentary lunch. In the morning attendees learn how the skills learned in the military can be transferable to what life would be like after the Forces, if entrepreneurship were the chosen path. The afternoon is consumed by break out sessions where attendees are able to sit down with business student volunteers and have a chance to flesh out his or her individual ideas.

In these sessions, “Questions like who is the target audience, what are the key offerings, who are the key competitors, and who stands above the rest,” are discussed and realized, explained Ciarallo.

These one-day seminars come with no obligation of commitment, only a requirement for the individuals in attendance to realize their full potential as well as the vast options that are available to them. However, for many aspiring entrepreneurs this day is not enough, and these daylong seminars turn into weeklong boot camps.

“Everyone was wondering how to sign up for the one week sessions,” Ciarallo enthused, “We have already received calls and applications.”

The weeklong entrepreneurial boot camps, titled Based in Business, are a partnership between the Prince’s Charities Canada, the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF), and Enactus Memorial. These sessions are also in partnership with three Canadian universities: Université de Laval in Quebec City from May 11–17, at Memorial University in St. John’s from July 20–26, and at the University of Regina in Regina from August 17–23.

In comparison to the daylong seminars, the boot camps are a crash course in all things business and entrepreneurship, and veterans are asked to apply and come to the boot camp with more than just a few ideas.

This intense course takes retired soldiers and changes them into students for a week. Between all-day classes, lectures and labs, the men and women who volunteered their lives to serve Canada, are immersed in the business field.

They are involved in classes taught by professors from the business programs at the respected universities, as well as mentored by business professionals in selected fields, and tutored by business students from the programs at each university.

To get the most out of the program, the attendee must have a preliminary business plan and a real idea of what he or she is looking to accomplish from the boot camp. The guidelines in this sense are strict, but this rigidness ends when it comes to what kinds of businesses are acceptable.

“The range of businesses really do span the gamut,” said Ciarallo. “There has been construction to parcel delivery to a woodworking specialist.” It is not about what type of business is started but rather, “How do I turn my passion into a paycheque?”

There was someone in the program who would give free personal fitness classes on the base, explained Ciarallo. He attended one of the weeklong seminars and was able to create a life from this passion. “He now has his own gym, with paid employees and is making a living based on something he just did for fun.”

All programs are free for participants and are funded by partner organizations Enactus, Memorial University and the CYBF. Although the daylong seminar does not require attendees to go through a strict eligibility process, the weeklong seminars have a stricter background check.

“Eligible applicants are Canadian Forces members who have been or will be medically released, including Regular Force members who have successfully completed developmental period one (DP1),” explained Ciarallo, “Primary Reservists who are occupation-qualified and have completed 21 months out of 24 months of consecutive full-time Class B service at the time they sustained the injury or illness; and Primary Reservists who sustained an injury or illness on Class C services for which they will be medically released.”

In addition, “The member must be occupation-qualified and have completed two years of consecutive full-time Class B service, or have server no less than eight years of Class A service, or have served a minimum six-month deployment in international operations.”

The eligibility factors are rigid. The Forces are anything but flexible. But a life as an entrepreneur provides one opportunity the Forces never could. “These people now have the option of working for themselves after working for a hierarchical career like the military,” explained Ciarallo.

“Small and medium businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we really need to support the people who foster these.”

But for Ciarallo, it’s not just about the business that both the one-day seminar and the weeklong boot camp can help create, it is about the personal confidence that is regained in the experience and the relationships made.

“One of the things I find extra special about our program are the bonds that are created because of, and after, the program,” said Ciarallo. “That’s a network that these people will have for life.”

Esprit de Corps | Ottawa, Ontario