SANDY — When veterans separate from the military, making the transition into civilian life may present challenges, particularly in some business circles. But for those who want to create their own path to business success, a local collaboration effort is helping to pave the way.
“If you can corral yourself into to doing what needs to be done, then chances are that you’re going to be more successful,” said panelist Lorraine Peart, an Air Force veteran and owner of Avalon Business Engineering Services . “A lot of your experience in the military serves you to be an entrepreneur.”
More than 100 people, mostly aspiring entrepreneurs, gathered in a conference room at the Miller Campus of Salt Lake Community College Friday to learn about strategies and resources available to help former military members realize their entrepreneurial dreams. The one-day Utah Veteran Business Conference was organized through the Utah Veteran-owned Partnership to connect veteran entrepreneurs and business owners with the resources they need to be successful in the marketplace.
During the morning session, a panel of veteran business owners discussed lessons learned from their own entrepreneurial experiences.
For Peart, participating in the program was a chance to share some of the knowledge gained as her company was being launched after leaving her 20-year stint in the military.
“If something that I experienced can help someone avoid a pitfall or be more successful, than I’m all about that,” she said. A former logistics specialist during her military career, Peart said her planning skills and military training have been keys to her success in civilian life.
“When you step out as an entrepreneur, you really don’t know what you don’t know, you step out on faith and take what you’ve got,” she explained. “You put your best foot forward and get your idea in mind, move forward and go for it.”
She also noted that one of the skills learned in the military of most use in civilian life is the ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances rather than allow such instances to derail your efforts. She added that the self-discipline learned in the service can also help in the business world.
Jeff Carleton, owner of Salt Lake City-based Mountain West Cider, served eight years as a tank officer and cavalry troop commander in the U.S. Army. Following the military, Carleton forged a successful 30-year career in the financial services industry before deciding to branch out on his own. A panelist on Friday, he said getting the right people around you at the beginning is critical in a small business environment.
“When you make a bad choice, make a change and find someone better (sooner than later),” he said. “Generally, you’ll know when someone is a fit for your organization. If one of you is not a good fit, it’s very painful.”
He also noted the importance of social networking and social media to a new business’s growth and marketing.
“If you can’t master it yourself, then find someone who can help you do it,” Carleton said. “It’s the least inexpensive way to get your message out there and to touch an awful lot of people.”
Among the audience members was local small business owner and U.S. Army veteran Ralph Bohn, 37, who was especially interested in the connecting with other aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Being able to network with other business owners and being able to help other veterans out is my big thing,” he said. “Because I’m a veteran, more opportunities open up.
Gary Kirkland and his wife are planning on opening a consulting business specializing in finance, engineering and information technology. As a “risk averse” person, he said learning how to utilize resources specifically for veterans could help alleviate many worries about entrepreneurship.
“(I’m here) learning what I can, getting inspired and networking with the right people and resources,” he said. “If can hone in on those things, contact the right people and fill the right gaps, I’ll be able to execute (my entrepreneurship plan).”