There is a training camp for veterans at the University of Connecticut, but it has nothing to do with push-ups or fitness. The program prepares local vets to start a business.
However, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans, or EBV, is now under threat, after losing funds during the pandemic.
Today, led by a professor emeritus, the community is mobilizing to save the program through fundraising.
On a cold fall day, welcoming lights and sweet aromas draw regulars in for a hot brew at Ini Sips Premium Coffee and Tea. The New Britain boutique is owned by Gulaid Ismail and his wife Davina.
“We said we wanted to give people this home brewing experience,” said Gulaid Ismail.
When the retired Marine Corps veteran, who served in Iraq, returned from overseas, he learned to transfer his skills to business through EBV.
“It was the best decision I have ever made,” he said.
This allowed him to open the cafe alongside Davina.
“At one point, someone talked about getting your MBA in 10 days,” Davina Ismail said.
In addition to business training, the program gave Gulaid Ismail the camaraderie that is so important to veterans.
“It allows you to have an active mind and start to regain a sense of motivation, if you lost it before you came back from abroad,” he said. “This program not only helps local veterans launch their businesses in the community, it also provides them with crucial support in the years to come. “
“It has continued to help us for almost a decade now. Different opportunities, different connections, networks, ”Davina Ismail said.
This is why small business owners are so worried to learn that the program is in jeopardy.
“It was a little heartbreaking because I know how much impact it has had on our lives. And just the importance of it. Again, it’s such a safe place, ”Ismail said.
Program founder and veteran Mike Zacchea started the first EBV course in 2010 to Be That Safe Place. Over the past decade, the program has also had a significant economic impact.
“Two hundred and eighteen graduates,” Zacchea said. “We started, at last count, 187 businesses, both for-profit and not-for-profit. Generated over $ 150 million in gross income, over 500 jobs.
He said the EBV was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 and lost donations due to the pandemic.
“The impact has been severe. The future of the program was uncertain, ”said Zacchea.
It caught the attention of UConn Professor Emeritus Tom O’Brien.
“Once I heard that they were going to take the program down, I just couldn’t, I wouldn’t let that happen,” he said.
O’Brien now poses a challenge to the community. The program needs $ 200,000 to survive and is ready to match up to $ 100,000 in donations.
“The one I’m doing for the veterans is more than giving back,” said O’Brien. “I’m making an investment in, I think I’m saving lives. I think this program is what is needed for veterans.
So far, people have stepped up and raised around $ 50,000, half of the fundraising goal.
The effort is incredibly inspiring for Zacchea.
“When I was wounded in 2004 in Fallujah, I exploded in an RPG, and three Marines whose names I never knew took cover under fire to drag me out of the kill zone,” he said. declared Zacchea. “I see there an analogy, you know, something really important, a program that is really important to the future of our nation, that we raised the alarm and people came to the rescue.”
Gulaid and Davina Ismail are also grateful to see others supporting other successes like theirs.
“It restores the faith or whatever you know, that there are people here who really want to see you succeed,” Gulaid Ismail said. “Not just the veterans, but there are also civilians who really believe not only in an American veteran, but also in programs that keep veterans moving forward.”
Fundraising progress can be viewed on the Veterans Entrepreneurship Boot Camp website.