Jim Pipper stands in front of about 75 airmen at Luke Air Force Base who are about to make the sometimes difficult transition to civilian life, and gives them an option they might not have considered: working for themselves.
Despite their training and the work ethic that got them this far, the airmen will not all have an easy time finding work.
“Many will be going into soft job markets,” Pipper said. “What we are trying to do is give them a viable alternative.”
Pipper gives them a quick presentation on the possibility of becoming entrepreneurs. It is all part of his role with the Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business program in Arizona, which helps train military service members on how to be entrepreneurs before sending them into civilian life.
More than 250,000 service members will transition to civilian life annually in the next few years, according to the SBA.
They have a higher-than-average unemployment rate, but they also have a higher rate of being self-employed. About 10 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs are veterans.
The Boots to Business program launched about a year and a half ago.
“These transitions are taking place across the U.S.,” Pipper said. “All military branches are seeing their forces reduced.”
Pipper said he jumped at the chance to work on the SBA program when he learned of its development.
“I’m an old vet,” he said. “When I got out (of the Air Force) in 1977, there was very little transition assistance. They said, ‘There’s the gate. Thanks for your service.’ And that was it.”
Now the Defense Department provides five days of training for service members returning to civilian life.
During that time, Pipper gives service members a 15-minute presentation on entrepreneurship, including examples of other veterans who successfully launched their own business.
Those who are interested can follow up with a free, two-day course Pippen teaches on entrepreneurship. He has given the course to service members across the state.
With Luke Air Force Base, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Fort Huachuca, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma and the Papago Park Military Reservation housing the National Guard, the program is busy in Arizona, said Robert Blaney, district director for the SBA in Arizona.
“The genesis of this was a program out of Syracuse University,” Blaney said. “In this state, especially because of the amount of bases we have, it is a big job and a lot of work.”
In 22 classes, Pippen has graduated 355 service members from his course in the last year.
He has 15 more of the two-day classes scheduled, including one at Luke June 9 and 10.
“It’s kind of a MBA course in two days,” Pippen said. “It would take most service members weeks or months to get this on their own from a SBA office.”
The courses cover a variety of topics, from developing a business idea to raising financing. One course module includes a discussion from an attorney regarding business structures.
“I had an Air Force guy whose idea was (a business) cleaning solar panels,” he said. “Another wanted to start a comic-book cafe. There’s lots of interesting thoughts, but for many of them, that’s all it is now, a thought.”
The biggest emphasis for the courses is showing veterans where they can get help on the subjects they know little about.
Once service members get through the two-day training, there is an additional eight-week online program they may take through the SBA.
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