Brenda Hansknecht, 55, spent 18 years moving around the country and raising her three boys while her husband served as an electronics tech chief in the U.S. Navy.
“I actually feel like I was a part of it because I was a spouse,” she said. “You’re giving up so much; you’re making so many sacrifices.”
Hansknecht wishes she knew when her husband, Eric, exited the military in 2006 that the government offers business training, called Boots to Business, for military members re-entering civilian life. Fortunately, she caught up with the later version of the program, Boots to Business: Reboot, when it was first held in Milwaukee in January.
Boots to Business: Reboot teaches the fundamentals of business ownership to military veterans and their dependents after their service has been completed—sometimes decades later. The program, which is free to veterans, service members and their spouses, was established by the U.S. Small Business Administration in July 2014 in 12 pilot cities, and in November 2015 was expanded to include Wisconsin. Milwaukee hosted its first course Jan. 26 and 27 in cooperation with the Milwaukee chapter of SCORE and the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp., in which about 30 people participated, said Shirah Apple, public information officer for the SBA’s Wisconsin District Office.
“There’s not a real active duty presence here, so Reboot works better for us because our veteran community has already made that transition,” said Apple, who herself served as a Navy officer from 1984 to 1994. “There were quite a few folks who attended who were in a timeline where they had been out for quite a while.”
The SBA Wisconsin District Office plans to hold the course again at WWBIC in Milwaukee June 24 and 25, Apple said.
The idea is that military veterans have the right combination of skills, character and discipline to succeed as entrepreneurs or small business owners, and the Reboot program can provide the additional information and resources to help them succeed. During Reboot, participants evaluate business concepts, recognize opportunities, learn financial and legal concepts, build market research, develop a business plan and meet mentors.
“It’s specifically for veterans looking at the skills that they have really received and comparable training they have received serving in the Armed Forces and how that can be leveraged, transferred if you will, into being an entrepreneur,” said Wendy Baumann, president of WWBIC.
Participants in Reboot first take the two-day Introduction to Entrepreneurship course and then have the option to take an eight-week Foundations of Entrepreneurship course offered online by Syracuse University.
Since Hansknecht started an insurance agency out of her Waukegan, Ill., home about a year ago, the training came at a good time. Her company, LifeKonnecht Insurance, offers life, health, disability and long-term care insurance to clients in both Illinois and Wisconsin. She found out about the Reboot program through SCORE.
The Reboot program, Hansknecht said, reminded her of some solid business tips and concepts, such as the fact that an entrepreneur’s work is not necessarily 9-to-5, but continues until something significant is accomplished that day. The program also reiterated the importance of having a good credit score, and she said she plans to pass that information along to her son who is considering joining the military.
At Reboot, Hansknecht also connected with a representative who helped her get set up to make bids for government contracts.
David Kocol, a digital media producer and sole proprietor of David Kocol LLC, also attended the January Reboot program in Milwaukee.
Koncol served four years of active duty and two years of inactive reserve in the U.S. Air Force ending in 1987.
After he left the service, Kocol worked at Xerox Corp. for 27 years before taking a voluntary reduction in force package in January 2013.
That’s when he decided to start his business, which offers services including videography and media coaching from offices in Milwaukee and Glendale.
“I had worked for a lot of people and I did not like the way the corporate culture was or the climate,” Kocol said. “I’ve always had somewhat of an entrepreneurial streak and this was something I wanted to do.”
Through the Reboot program, Kocol was able to refine his business plan and improve upon his planning skills.
“I had a very loose (business plan) and I tightened it up and it helped me to consolidate my thinking in a number of ways and also helped me to let go of some things that seemed like a good idea but really weren’t part of my core business aims,” he said. “There was a lot of stuff that I knew but it was very nice because it filled in some gaps in my learning.”