Local businessmen offer VICTRI for service vetsAcross the street from the sprawling VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, a simple yellow ribbon was cut on Friday.
By: Laura Kruse, Staff Writer, New Richmond News
Across the street from the sprawling VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, a simple yellow ribbon was cut on Friday.
That stroke of the scissors will lead to successful entrepreneurial veterans, the organizers of The Veterans’ Initiative Center and Research Institute hope.
Basically, The VICTRI will help area veterans start small businesses by providing location and office equipment. Veteran entrepreneurs will be guided by already successful veteran business owners, and network among themselves.
Additionally, The VICTRI will house a veterans-focused think tank.
“We’re one of the only think tanks in the nation that focuses only on veterans’ issues,” said The VICTRI’s President and CEO Jack Scharrett.
The VICTRI was the idea of long-time River Falls resident Jimmie Coulthard. In his previous work, Coulthard worked with the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans to find transitional and permanent housing for homeless veterans. While he was on board, the organization bought nine houses, built 200 units of permanent housing and started three outreach centers. Currently he owns Tiger Base LLC, which provides consulting for veterans issues.
Coulthard said he’s always wanted to help veterans get into business.
“It’s a hard game for disabled veterans to get into,” Coulthard said.
There currently are organizations to help veterans start businesses but the resources are scattered, Coulthard said. His vision is to have all the necessary components in one spot.
Coulthard used his connections from MACV to garner the organization’s spot in Building 11 on the VA Medical Center Campus in Minneapolis. The VICTRI is leasing the building through the Community Development Housing Corporation.
Included in The VICTRI’s three-story renovated brick house are office spaces, a business library, a kitchen, a research room and even a set of bunk beds.
Entrepreneurs using The VICTRI will have access to voicemail and fax machine lines, computer ports and technology for presentations. They will be able to use The VICTRI as a mailing address, and get help from on-staff administrative assistants. Accountants and lawyers will be working with the entrepreneurs as well.
More importantly, the veteran entrepreneurs will gain education and guidance from successful veterans working in business.
The VICTRI’s Executive Board is a shining example of success in business. Scharrett helped start a business development center in Iraq while serving there in 2005-06 and three other for-profit civilian firms. Coulthard started and ran two businesses. Bill Casey, secretary, is currently working on his fourth and fifth business ventures. Dave Youngquist, vice-chairman, led several national printing organizations and worked with management development.
All Board members are veterans.
Casey explained that guidance is essential. He said World War II veterans were highly successful in civilian life, but Vietnam veterans didn’t always have the same experiences. Now, a new generation of veterans will be coming home, said Casey, a rural Hammond resident.
“Our objective is to organize a program to assist them in becoming the next greatest generation,” Casey said.
The first step to success is understanding the basics of business. The Board partnered with area colleges to create a thorough but quick business certification program. Veterans will learn skills like setting up inventories and budgeting, among other steps to running a business.
“Education is a huge piece of this center,” Scharrett said.
The learning doesn’t stop with those concepts either, Scharrett said. Veterans will apply their new skills in practical tests.
“That’s how we learned in the service,” he said.
Another key component in The VICTRI is networking and consultation. Veterans will be able to access a network of business savvy veterans to guide them through the process.
A Board will look over business plans, Casey said. Rather than turning a proposal down, the Board will help veterans modify their plans for greater success.
“We want to build a mentorship program with successful veterans helping the new veterans,” said Scharrett.
Veteran entrepreneurs can network with each other more easily at The VICTRI too.
Although The VICTRI is located in Minnesota, Wisconsin veterans will be accepted. In fact, the only requirement for using The VICTRI is proof of service with DD214 papers.
“We’re all vets, we all served together. It’s for them,” said Scharrett.
Eventually, Casey said they hope to establish centers in all 50 states but until then, this one will serve as many as it can.
The Center won’t be running until at least mid-January 2009, said Casey. Veterans interested in the program can visit www.VICTRI.org, or e-mail Scharrett at email@example.com.
On the Web site, veterans are able to send a summary of their business to a Board. From then on, the Board will contact the veteran and explain the next steps, Scharrett said.
The VICTRI has gotten a positive response from visitors so far.
Scharrett said General Gordon Sullivan, current president of the Association of the United States Army and former Chief of Staff of the Army, toured the facility before the ribbon cutting. He even mentioned The VICTRI in his Veterans Day speech.
For The VICTRI to successfully complete its mission will require some hefty funding in the next six months.
Scharrett said the Board estimates it will take $250,000 in operational cash over the next six months to make The VICTRI work.
It may be a challenge to raise that amount with the current economy, he said. “What we can do with that money is huge,” Scharrett added.
Although The VICTRI will be a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, they haven’t gotten the paperwork through yet. For now, the Minnesota Vietnam Veterans Charities is taking tax-deductible donations for The VICTRI.
Checks, with The VICTRI in the memo line, can be sent to 2674 Mackubin Street, Roseville, Minn., 55113.