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Commentary An entrepreneurial boot camp can help veterans start businesses

Michael Denham is president and chief executive officer of BDC.

"Military veterans have such an array of skills that many of them can do really well if they start their own businesses."

– HRH The Prince of Wales

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At BDC, we're dedicated exclusively to Canada's entrepreneurs. This of course includes those among the 5,000 Armed Forces members who leave military service each year to start new, civilian lives.

To reach them, we collaborate with Prince's Operation Entrepreneur (POE), a program catalyzed by HRH The Prince of Wales. POE offers seven-day boot camps, one-day workshops and continuing support for vets to acquire entrepreneurial skills. My BDC colleagues across the country offer advice to participants at the boot camps.

We see that these vets are well suited to entrepreneurial life. They're disciplined leaders who know how to make decisions and manage stress. They have spent many years serving our country. And now, with their skills and competencies, we are happy to help them serve our economy.

The POE program – available free of charge, in English and French – is a terrific success. Its 300-plus boot-camp graduates have started almost 200 businesses, often in places where unemployment is high.

The program also helps veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Of such vets, 97 per cent said it provided positive benefits, including skills and abilities related to personal resiliency.

One of the program alumni is retired lieutenant-colonel Steve Day, a former commander of the elite Joint Task Force 2 special-operations unit. After attending a POE boot camp in Regina, he decided to take the plunge and start a business.

Mr. Day partnered with Michael Coyle, another retired Canadian military veteran, to create Reticle Ventures Canada. Reticle offers risk management, training and innovation services to private and public clients.

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Mr. Day has highly transferable military skills, experience and formal education, but there were gaps in his entrepreneurial knowledge. At the boot camp, he says he "learned all about what I didn't know."

Remarkably, even though he'd endured the extreme hardships and stresses of a senior leader in special ops, he says that entrepreneurship is "the hardest thing I've ever done. Every day is hard. Fun, but hard."

Mr. Day's business plan was complex and capital-intensive, so he needed financing. But when he applied to the traditional chartered banks, they rejected him.

We were happy to provide a loan. As Canada's only bank dedicated exclusively to entrepreneurs, BDC understands the challenges that entrepreneurs such as Mr. Day face. We take greater risk – for them.

His hard work has paid off. Since launching in 2014, Reticle has grown to 10 full-time employees who provide a wide range of services – from a security audit for a nuclear agency to a team-building exercise for executives. Its clients include universities, national infrastructure organizations, security agencies, media firms, international charities and financial institutions.

Mr. Day credits POE. "It was instrumental in helping me point myself in the right direction to get Reticle off the ground. The knowledge and resources I received at the boot camp, plus POE's ongoing support and networks, are simply invaluable, and a tremendous service to those who've served their country and are looking to transition."

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To celebrate POE's achievements, the Prince of Wales, Mr. Day and other program alumni will attend a veteran's business expo at CFB Trenton on June 30.

"Canadian servicemen and women give so much in support of their country," the Prince of Wales said in The Globe and Mail in 2014. "I am keen to ensure that when their duty is done they have everything they need to make a smooth transition to civilian life."

I completely agree. And when they succeed, these formidably resourceful vets start making new contributions to Canadian society. Of course we support them.

The CEO of Canopy Growth, Canada's largest medical marijuana grower, shares three things a budding entrepreneur needs to consider. Bruce Linton has a history of entrepreneurship in several sectors before taking on cannabis.
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