Reflecting on Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans
by Stephanie JH McReynolds, Syracuse University Business, Management, and Entrepreneurship Librarian
Despite evidence to the contrary— cooler evenings, glimpses of red and golden leaves, and mid-terms on the horizon— summer feels like just a moment ago. Reflecting on this past summer’s work with the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) program brings forth images and snippets of research consultations and conversations with aspiring veteran entrepreneurs over the years, along with the odd sense that all these past interactions are in some ways just as immediate as the not so distant summer.
This sense of immediacy or currency is perhaps not so odd, given the circular nature of time and the seasons, as well as my work here at Syracuse University (SU) over the years. I have been involved with EBV from my first summer at SU in 2014, when I welcomed the opportunity to lead a business research instruction session for Syracuse EBV participants, as well as the chance to provide one-on-one research consultations during the evening “Genius Bar” sessions, when those with various expertise (accounting, law, etc.) are available to work with any EBV participants who need domain specific guidance (including research guidance) to help further their business ideas.
For those who may not be familiar with EBV, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans offers “experiential training in entrepreneurship and small business management to post-9/11 veterans and their family members who are in early growth mode for their new business.” The program, which is free of charge for participating veterans, consists of three phases: a 30-day online course, followed by a nine-day residency at one of the 10 EBV host universities, and finally a full “12 months of support and mentorship delivered through the EBV Post Program Support.” The summer of 2019 marked the 12th year of the EBV program, which has seen a measure of success. According to a press release celebrating the anniversary, “Of the nearly 2,000 aspiring entrepreneurs who have completed EBV, 79 percent have gone on to start their own business, and 92 percent of those are still in business.”
While the core library services of providing instruction on business research resources and individual research guidance have remained constants throughout my support of EBV at Syracuse, I have witnessed a major development that has greatly enhanced research support for EBV participants at Syracuse and nationwide. Previously, the available research resources varied by EBV location, with some campuses providing on-site access to library subscription databases during the one-week EBV residency and other locations extending that access to the full yearlong EBV program by designating EBV participants as students who have remote database login credentials. This uneven access, as well as the proposed solution, is described in detail in a 2013 article written by EBV librarians, including my Syracuse University EBV business librarian predecessor. Finally, in 2015, after well over 2 ½ years of effort, largely on the part of Texas A&M EBV business librarian Jared Hoppenfeld, the EBV National Info Portal, with database access donated by vendors, legal agreements handled by EBV National through Syracuse University Legal Counsel, and access facilitated via EZproxy hosted by OCLC, was realized.
The EBV National Info Portal has empowered EBV National and EBV librarians to provide every EBV participant with the same baseline access to select core business research resources, including business article databases, industry, company, and market research resources. Thanks to the generosity of participating database vendors, this access continues throughout the yearlong EBV program. The EBV Info Portal also includes contact information for each EBV librarian and a page of recommended freely available websites, selected by EBV librarians, as additional sources of business data and information. The Info Portal has relieved much of the pressure EBV librarians and certain EBV participants (those whose business ideas rely more heavily on proprietary business and industry data) had felt to make sure all possible relevant information and data was gathered during the week-long residency at the host EBV university campus.
While the EBV Info Portal has helped to close the gap in access to business information and data sources, challenges remain in providing the most appropriate and beneficial instruction session for EBV participants, whose existing level of familiarity with the research process and research databases varies as widely as each individual participant’s unique business idea and related information needs. In acknowledgement of this challenge, the time allotted for my “Orientation to Business Research” session has increased over the years from a mere 15-minute session originally, to 30 minutes, to a full hour, to 75 minutes this year. Based on feedback from EBV program organizers, I have tried different approaches to this one-shot session. In some sessions, I have focused solely on how to access and search databases and how to identify local public library and community research resources available after completing the EBV program. In other sessions, I have also introduced the concept of research as a non-linear process requiring curiosity, persistence, creativity, and patience in order to find necessary data and information. I have also led sessions that built in a significant amount of time for EBV participants to brainstorm and discuss their business ideas and research needs with one another, as a way to encourage peer support early on during the EBV residency experience.
During the 2018 and, most recently, the 2019 EBV residency instruction sessions, I shared a brief sample business idea of my own with EBV participants and then used that idea to walk through a class brainstorming exercise showing what one might already know about a new business idea as well as what type of information one might like to find. I then gave participants time to fill out a blank brainstorming worksheet about their own particular business idea. Then, using my business idea and the class brainstorming worksheet, I demonstrated strategies for identifying relevant industry codes (an early step in the business research process), followed by examples showing how to use those codes (and other search strategies) to find information relevant to my business idea in the EBV Info Portal databases, as well as in select databases that participants would only have access to while on the Syracuse University campus. I also provided students with print handouts outlining searches in key EBV Info Portal databases, to which they could refer after the session when delving into the resources on their own.
I have found that using the same sample business idea throughout the instruction session helps to unify and show the inter-relatedness of the various business resources, which can otherwise seem fragmented. Although I emphasize the benefit of watching the search strategies and examples of what one can find in the resources, it is difficult to keep the session from being derailed by individual questions and issues arising from some participants’ attempts to replicate my exact search steps along with me in real time. If the carefully planned session is less cohesive as a result, or if lingering questions remain, I assure participants that any confusion can be addressed one-on-one during one of the four Genius Bar evening sessions offered throughout the week.
The Genius Bar sessions continue to be the most personally rewarding part of the EBV experience for me. It is during these one-on-one meetings that I get to learn about an individual’s particular business idea and sometimes, if they choose to share, the impetus for the idea or what makes them passionate about pursuing it. During these research consultations, I also have the opportunity to provide custom tailored recommendations and search strategies that will lead the individual to information and data that could make a difference in the development of their business idea or in convincing others to invest in their dreams.
Initially, I did my best to cover all four evening Genius Bar sessions myself, only reaching out to certain SU librarian colleagues for coverage when I knew I would have an unavoidable scheduling conflict during one of those evening shifts. Now it is standard practice for me to reach out to a handful of colleagues before the start of the EBV residency, offering them the opportunity to adjust their regular work schedules if they feel inclined to cover an EBV Genius Bar evening. In this way, I typically get coverage from my colleagues for two of the four summer evenings. Anyone who feels like they could benefit from a business research refresher prior to the start of the EBV residency week is welcome to meet with me. In talking with colleagues after EBV, I get the sense that they find the experience just as rewarding as I do, and I am glad we get a chance to share in this positive experience together.
Although it feels as though summer is just barely behind us, I know fall really is here, followed by a long winter and reticent spring, and then summer tumbling shortly thereafter. A new summer brings another opportunity to try out a different configuration of the “Orientation to Business Research,” this time based on direct anonymous survey feedback from EBV participants, which I received for the first time after this summer’s EBV. With each iteration of this session, I hope to get closer to meeting more of the various expectations and many different information needs of EBV participants.
But, what I most look forward to is getting to know EBV participants and learning what they are passionate about, from providing excellent elder care, to bringing calm and order to the chaos of people’s homes and belongings, to preventing school shootings, to establishing an aftercare fitness center where children will receive exceptional sports coaching and training. If I can play some small part in helping participants find relevant information and data (such as demographic data from the Census Bureau, a specialized market research report, a referral to an expert in a certain subject, or a list and visualization of company data) to inform the development of their business ideas, all the better. No matter what, I learn just as much (usually more) from the participating veterans as they learn from me, which is yet another reason (beyond the sunshine and temperate weather) why I welcome summer in Syracuse.