Assisting entrepreneurial veterans

The Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center held its annual National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) in May.

The Center hosted 37 veterans from branches including the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, and welcomed participants from California, Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and New York.

The event is divided into three phases. Phase one encourages veterans to develop business concepts and prepare for their time on the UF campus. Phase two – known as boot camp – is when the veterans come to Gainesville and learn from UF faculty and alumni. Phase three is a five-month mentorship program with entrepreneurs and experts, as well as peer networking.

The second phase is an eight-day intensive training featuring a total of 35 sessions from some of the best leaders in different fields.

Two of those leaders were also Warrington alumni that returned to campus and provided insight for the veterans in attendance. Artsy Abode CEO and Founder Leah Lytle (BSPR ’94, MAMC ’96, MBA ’02) and Victory Tailgate CEO Scott Sims (BSBA ’97) both came back to Gainesville to lead discussions about entrepreneurship and interact with the veterans.

“Being a part of this incredible program was such a joy,” Lytle said. “I am humbled and so appreciative of the freedoms our veterans ensure we have, which allow entrepreneurs like myself live our dreams every day. I am so proud of UF to have developed such a valuable program for this deserving group and was so proud to be a part of this program.”

Sims added, “It was an honor to spend time with and get to know all these amazing veterans. It really is inspiring for me to speak with them and see their tremendous passion in all that they do. If it wasn’t for the sacrifices that these brave men and women make every day, people like myself would never have the opportunity to start our own businesses and follow our dreams. Nothing we do could thank them enough.”

Veterans came to phase two of the events in different stages with their ventures. Some were already under way while others were trying to launch. Elle Loughan, who served as an All-Source Intelligence Analyst in the U.S. Army from 2003-2009, was in the process of developing her idea – a boutique hotel along the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico built on sustainability.

With a June trip to Tulum set to look at potential locations, Loughan attended the VEP to ensure she was prepared for the final steps of opening the hotel.

“This has been a great experience for me,” Loughan said.

The veterans now head into the third phase of the program and will continue to receive mentoring and business development support from leaders they met during the trip to Gainesville.