Aug. 2, 2016
A Memorial-based boot camp that delivers business skills training is offering former members of Canada’s military a chance at new careers as entrepreneurs.
“I’m what we would call a broken solider,” said Phillip Guy, a former tank driver in an Edmonton-based regiment for the Canadian military.
“When I was serving in Afghanistan, I ran over an IED and the concussion went up through my back because I was the tank driver and you gotta think, like a low-rider car, that’s how close you are to the ground,” Mr. Guy, 39, said recently from the Gardiner Centre in St. John’s, where he was midway through an Enactus Memorial program known as Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur. “So, I got injured and can no longer wear a helmet anymore because of the nerve damage in my neck, so because you can’t wear a helmet, you can no longer be a solider because you can’t wear the protective gear.”
After his injury, Mr. Guy eventually had no choice: he had to leave the army. It was a hard reality to face.
“Very few people find that job where they wake up in the morning and look forward to going to work. That was me. I loved the army.”
Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Mr. Guy and his family moved to Mississauga, Ont., when he was 14 years old. He joined the army at 25 and served until this past spring when he moved to Conception Bay South, N.L., with his wife.
A civilian for only two months, he was considering the next phase of his life when he learned about Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur.
The seven-day business boot camp helps veterans and transitioning members of the Canadian Armed Forces find new careers as entrepreneurs. The intensive week teaches business skills, provides networking opportunities and offers one-on-one mentoring and business plan development with student volunteers, mostly from Enactus Memorial.
The program started in 2008 as a project of Enactus Memorial called Based in Business. In 2011 the student volunteer group partnered with Canadian Youth Business Foundation, now known as futurpreneur, to develop Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur, a program of Prince’s Charities Canada. Currently in its eighth year, Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur is the only program of its kind in Canada.
Since 2012, the program has helped 250 graduates start 161 businesses.
Leen Bolle completed Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur in 2014. Since then, his business—HeroDogTreats based in St. Catherine’s, Ont.—has grown by 500 per cent with revenues of over $1 million.
“Until Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur, I never received validation from a professional,” he said. “The boot camp provided me the assurance I was on the right track and the guidance on where to focus my energy.”
Mr. Bolle spent 16 years with Canadian Special Operations Command and served one tour in Bosnia and two in Afghanistan before leaving the military to pursue his entrepreneurial dream.
He says aside from the training he received during the boot camp itself, the network that continues past the program was crucial for his business’s success.
“By meeting the people that I have, it has given me the confidence to know that if I don’t have the answer, I can reach out to a university partner or a business owner and find the solution, whether it be directly through them or by way of an introduction.”
Courtney Clarke is Enactus Memorial’s co-project manager for Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur, responsible for organizing related events and securing sponsorships.
“These people go out and sacrifice everything in order for us to have the opportunities we have,” she said. “To be able to use those opportunities to gain skills that we can then give back to them so then they can start their businesses … It all goes in full circle because their businesses tend to have underlying social missions that, in turn, help even more people.
“To be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself and to see people two and three years after they’ve gone through the program making a million dollars a year and helping veterans by hiring them and giving back to other support programs and having them say to you, ‘It’s because I went to this,’ it definitely makes it worth it,” Ms. Clarke continued.
Mr. Guy has already made progress on his business idea since the program began and is currently looking for a location for his retail store, Noble Miniatures and Collectible Card Games, which will sell table top strategy games. He also hopes to grow the local gaming community by offering lessons in game strategies and building and painting model pieces as well as providing a place for interested people to play the games.
“It’s time for me to work for myself. I want to be my own boss, I want to make my own hours, I want to be able to do this,” he said. “I’ve been in business and I’ve been in a store and help run a store and trade sales but I’ve never owned … I know how to deal with customers when they’re in the store, but I don’t have a clue how to get it started. So, that’s why I’m here because, essentially I need to know how to start before I can get to the middle part or the end. This here is going to teach me how to get my store up and running.”
Mr. Guy says the structured life and comradeship he shared with his military co-workers makes transitioning to civilian life especially difficult, but the skills he’s learned and the people he’s met since participating in Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur will help him develop this next phase of his life.
“Anything I forget or anything I don’t know, I can go to these people about it. It’s incredible that I have that networking afterwards.”
Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur ran from July 17-23 at the Gardiner Centre, Memorial University, in St. John’s.