Michael Haynie wouldn't dream of reality-checking his students with the possibility of failure. He teaches disabled veterans, whose confidence was shattered along with their bodies. "Our challenge is twofold," says Haynie, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship. "We must give them the tool kit to start a company and help them believe they can succeed."
Haynie, a former Air Force officer, created the class because he saw a need in the numbers. "We've sent about 2.5 million folks to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, and about 30 percent are transitioning to the civilian work force with a disability that is new to them," says Haynie. "At the same time, people with disabilities are almost twice as likely to turn to self-employment and entrepreneurship as the general population. I put 2 and 2 together."
The class begins in veterans' homes, with a month of online study covering the basics of business and entrepreneurship. Students then travel to Syracuse for an eight-day immersion in subjects that include opportunity recognition and legal issues. High-profile speakers parade through, delivering messages both practical and inspirational.
But though the class encourages vets, it also resets their expectations. "We help veterans modify a concept they came in the door with to one that is reasonable in terms of their skills and new limitations," says Haynie. So, for example, Haynie counseled a student whose traumatic brain injury made the construction business he wanted to start impractical. The veteran now builds and sells furniture.
Haynie also convinces students that it is OK to use their circumstances to drum up business. "Initially, they have no desire to leverage the fact that they are service-disabled veterans," he says. "We show them they've earned their status, and it will open doors for them."
At the end, students are plugged in to an extensive network of faculty, entrepreneurs, and lawyers who provide free advice and support.
Six other universities have adopted the Syracuse curriculum, and Haynie recently launched a companion class for disabled veterans' relatives. "The spouses, the parents, are saying, 'I've had to quit my full-time job to act as caregiver,' " says Haynie. "They say, 'Entrepreneurship makes sense for me, too.' "
Syllabus for Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans With Disabilities: