Supporting Veterans’ Business Dreams – Syracuse.edu

Exterior of the National Veterans Resource Center with flags waving on a sunny day.

Syracuse’s Blackstone LaunchPad supports student veterans in their business endeavors, including partnering with the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the Defense Comptrollership Program for Veteran Specialty Education.

Ever had an idea for a business that you knew would be successful? Lots of people, including veteran students, have great ideas for business ventures. But not everyone has the opportunity to develop the entrepreneurial skills necessary to make it happen. Luckily, Syracuse has the Blackstone LaunchPad in the Syracuse University Libraries to help aspiring entrepreneurs pursue their business ventures and creative endeavors.

LaunchPad serves students, faculty, staff, and young alumni from all academic disciplines interested in research and discovery, building innovative career paths, and learning the principles of entrepreneurship. Syracuse’s LaunchPad is part of the larger Blackstone LaunchPad network, which began a nationwide effort in 2013 to provide resources and business opportunities to service members, veterans and their families through its Veterans Initiative.

Syracuse’s LaunchPad and its CEO, Linda Dickerson Hartsock, work with student veterans in their business ventures, including partnering with the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) and the Defense Comptrollership Program (DCP) for veteran specialty training. Hartsock recently led training workshops for two programs hosted by the IVMF as part of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans Accelerate program and a boot camp to give non-student veterans a taste of the college experience. She also hosted a summer workshop for the DCP on venture creation and presentation skills around product and business model development.

“We’ve really started to grow our relationship with the IVMF, which I’m proud of because it’s the nation’s premier program for veterans and specifically for veteran entrepreneurship,” says Hartsock.

There are about three million veteran-owned businesses in the US today, and Hartsock says those businesses are more likely to be successful than those not owned by veterans, based on her research with the US Small Business Administration. Hartsock believes this is due to the soft skills often learned on duty. “If you think about the soft skills that go with entrepreneurship, resilience tops my list, along with problem solving, team building, and conflict resolution.”

Amanda Rylee ’19 and Brian Kam ’16 are just two of many student veterans who have been supported by LaunchPad as they begin working on their business dreams.

Amanda Rylee: Blood, Sweat and Beer

US Army Captain Amanda Rylee ’19 knows good beer. Raised in Fairhope, Alabama, her stepmother worked for a company that made portable keg containers, and Rylee would travel the country with her to visit customers at their breweries. From this, she developed a love of craft beer, and when she enrolled in the miliary, she noticed that craft beers weren’t available when soldiers went out for a beer after work. “While there are breweries owned by veterans, none are distributed or sold on military postal exchanges.”

Portrait of Amanda Rylee standing next to a tank on display indoors.

US Army Captain Amanda Rylee ’19 says she envisions creating a line of craft beer products for each of the military branches.

Rylee studied Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Her academic interests and love of craft beer merged when she founded her company, Blood, Sweat and Beers, with the goal of creating craft brew specifically for a military audience. She says she saw a great opportunity to capitalize on the rising popularity of craft beer and interest in military-branded craft beer.

She began working on a business model for a class and connected to the LaunchPad to refine it and raise seed capital. Rylee has developed important leadership skills while working at her company which she applies to her active duty military career. “I believe that my leadership skills and the tenacity, passion and resilience that I have gained through entrepreneurship have helped me succeed in my military career.”

Blood, Sweat and Beers is currently on hold while Rylee is on active duty with the First Security Force Assistance Brigade, but she is eager to return once her contract ends. She envisions creating a product line for each of the military branches. Some of the names for their beer are Blue Falcon Lager, Puddle Pirate Pale Ale and Zero Dark Thirty Double IPA.

I believe that my leadership skills and the tenacity, passion and resilience that I have acquired through entrepreneurship have helped me succeed in my military career.

—Amanda Rylee ’19

“Syracuse University offered an unparalleled veteran community and unlimited faculty, peer and community support that I never thought possible,” says Rylee.

Brian Kam: Thrive

Brian Kam ’16 served as a corporal in the US Marine Corps from 2003 to 2007, and he was another veteran entrepreneur who used the LaunchPad to work on something worthwhile. Kam started his company Thrive in 2016 after returning from Nepal where he was doing relief work after a devastating earthquake. Thrive provides frontline vocational training programs and medical assistance to communities in need. Kam and his two co-founders, Ryan Brinkerhoff ’16 and Joshua Moon ’16, turned to LaunchPad to launch their company.

Two men sit next to a small solar panel.

Brian Kam ’16 (left), a former US Marine Corps private, started his company Thrive in 2016 after returning from Nepal where he was doing relief work after a devastating earthquake.

“It was Blackstone LaunchPad and Linda Hartsock that helped put all the pieces together,” says Kam. “We learned what to do, how to start a non-profit organization, how to take it abroad and how to be an entrepreneur.”

While studying International Relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Middle East Studies at the College of Arts and Sciences and working on Thrive, Kam also sought assistance from the Office of Veterans and Military Affairs (OVMA). “The OVMA gave me a lot of support during my studies. They had spaces where I could relax. I met many veteran friends there who supported me and that was vital for a veteran in the Syracuse community.”

Kam is now a registered nurse in Ogdensburg, New York, working in child psychiatry. He says that mental health in children is often neglected and he was introduced to this work when he was in Nepal where he witnessed a gap in medical support.

He says it was the entrepreneurial spirit he developed at LaunchPad that drove him to attend nursing school. “A lot of things I learned in Nepal and a lot of things I learned on LaunchPad led me to want to become a nurse – I’ve found my calling where I can still help those less fortunate have than me,” explains Kam.

The OVMA gave me a lot of support during my studies. They had spaces where I could relax. I met many longtime friends there who supported me, and that was very important for a veteran in the Syracuse community.

—Brian Kam ’16

Purposeful listening is one of the skills he learned at LaunchPad and uses every day in his nursing care. “My ability to listen purposefully and thoughtfully allows me to validate my patients and their experiences, dispel stigma and misinformation about mental health, identify their stressors, emotions and strengths, and inspire healthy coping mechanisms and a commitment to self-compassion and mental well-being. Purposeful listening remains the key skill that allows me to inspire change both through my Thrive projects and in my current role as a pediatric psychiatric nurse.”

Kam is now a mentor at LaunchPad, providing advice to current students and veteran students who are pursuing their dreams. “If a student has an idea, he should pursue it. There are many resources on the LaunchPad that can help them make that dream a reality.”

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