Boots to Briefcases: Veterans as Entrepreneurs
By Dennis Walikainen | Published
As one million veterans return to the American workforce, some will venture into entrepreneurial employment, either as leaders or team members. One Michigan Technological University professor wants to find out if there is a difference between their initial interest and overall success compared to the general population; then he wants to give them a hand.
Saurav Pathak, Rick and Jo Berquist assistant professor of innovation and entrepreneurship in the School of Business and Economics, seeks to create a data set that will tell him how many returning veterans are going the entrepreneur route.
He’s aiming high, too.
President Barack Obama sent an encouraging response to his email request for support. No money came with it, but Pathak will continue to try to secure federal funds, especially given the administration’s Joining Forces initiative that seeks to hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013.
“I’ll first look at the skill set the veterans bring back with them,” he says. “There is some thought that the Air Force veterans have more technical background, for example, than Army or Navy veterans.”
Part of his research project, which is currently sponsored by the Michigan Tech Research Excellence Fund (REF), seeks to build more awareness and future connections between the Veteran’s Affairs Office, the University (including ROTC programs) and veterans themselves.
"These [REF] projects are funded as seed grants to help new faculty get their research programs underway,” says Dave Reed, vice president for research. “Typically, they are early stage or preliminary. Saurav’s work is a great example of these projects, and our faculty do a wonderful job of using results from these projects to leverage further funding.”
Pathak’s focus is on what hinders the veterans from beginning or succeeding as entrepreneurs.
“In Michigan alone, there are some 700,000 veterans,” he says. “And on campus there are about 90 veteran students and another 90 faculty and staff, mostly staff. If we can harness just a small percentage of them in a University center for entrepreneurship, we can help them succeed and propel Michigan Tech and the community into prominence at the same time.”
Pathak’s research grant expires in July 2013, so he wants to have the additional funding and a more defined project ready to launch by then.
“ROTC has shown great interest,” he says, “and we will be traveling to the Ishpeming, Marquette and Calumet Armories to talk about my work and see how much interest there really is.”
That’s one important component: actual data on numbers of veterans interested in entrepreneurship in the first place.
“I went to a veterans convention in Detroit, and there were 6,000 veterans there,” says Pathak. “We know that a lack of available resources hinders them, and we also think that there is difference between disabled veterans and those who are not.”
Disabled veterans are more likely to be working alone, he says. And many of the veterans seem to have been unaware of all the resources that are available to them.
“I don’t have the data set to completely verify this, but talking to veterans in Detroit, senior military people seem to be not as averse to taking risks,” Pathak observes. “Where junior officers are so used to taking orders that it might hinder them. Again, I need to do more research to verify these statements.”
Veterans’ well-being could affect their choices between necessity-based and opportunity-based entrepreneurship too, he says.
There has been previous research on entrepreneurship—for example, a Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics at the University of Michigan. But there is no study currently focusing on veterans in terms of entrepreneurship.
With or without help from the White House, Pathak seeks to understand veterans’ unique needs as they attempt to become entrepreneurs. Then, he hopes to help them succeed.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.