Using A Military Mindset To Create Business Start Ups

Alex Hill, right, and Justin Duhe, left, walk through the coconut groves at Coco Rico, Homestead, FL.
Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

As he transitions out of the military this fall, Justin Duhe is going into business for himself. The 28-year-old Army linguist and cyber specialist bought a five acre coconut grove in Homestead, Fla. last year – sight unseen. He knew nothing about coconuts at the time.

“I farmed before in Texas, but it was all vegetable farming, nothing like this,” Duhe said. “But I saw the potential of money, you know, that they were growing fruit and it was an investment.”

Justin Duhe bought his 5 acre coconut farm as an investment as he transitions out of the Army.

But while his new career running Coco Rico Farms will be vastly different from what he did in the Army, Duhe said his military experience will still be an asset.

Noting that he learned Farsi in 47 weeks in the Army, Duhe said he’s not afraid of challenges. And his time in the military has helped him build a business network. He wasn’t in Florida long before crossing paths with a veteran in the food business who was looking for a fresh coconut supplier. The two Army men bonded instantly.

“That’s part of the military mindset,” Duhe said. “You see each other and you pick up your battle buddy and they pick you up and you both have a vision, a goal and you keep on moving forward.”

Duhe and Alex Hill, owner of Florida Coconuts, became “business” battle buddies – not partners, but supplier and vendor.

Alex Hill, Army veteran and owner of Florida Coconuts, met Duhe online while searching for a new supply of fresh Florida coconuts.

Hill, who was in the Army Airborne, sells fresh coconut water to tourists along the beach. He said it’s not the first time he’s done business with other people who’ve been in the military.

“They have a similar work ethic as you and also uphold those similar values that you have. It’s hard to find people that have the same values outside the military,” Hill said.

Green coconuts are the best source for fresh coconut water.

Agencies target “Vetrepreneurs”

About 2.5 million veterans own businesses. According to the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, veterans own 13 to 15 percent of small businesses, though they’re only eight percent of the population.

Women veterans are driving the trend, according to Misty Stutsman, the director of entrepreneurship and small business at the institute.

“Women veteran entrepreneurship has grown over 300 percent since 2007, which is insane,” Stutsman said. “If you look at these entrepreneurs, not only is the start-ups great, but they’re out earning their civilian counterparts.”

To offer veterans the option of self-employment, the Institute developed several entrepreneurship programs including some that are specifically for women veterans, active-duty, and military spouses.

“Communities are investing in these programs to make sure that the next generation of entrepreneurs is supported,” Stutsman said.

Alex Hill, second from left, accepts his $7,500 second place winnings at the first Veterans Florida “Batttle of the Pitches.”

Veteran-owned startups have attracted the attention of states, universities, and other agencies.

The success record among veteran-owned startups has attracted the attention of states, universities, and other agencies.

The US Small Business Administration Veteran Business Outreach Centers offer a range of resources and training in conjunction with more than 20 partners. There are non-profit organizations like Bunker Labs, created by military veterans for veterans interested in a start-up.

Veterans Florida – a non-profit corporation created by the state of Florida – offers free classes, mentors, and an annual “Battle of the Pitches” where “vetrepreneurs” compete for cash prizes.

Florida Coconuts, Hill’s company, won second prize – $7500 – at the 2018 competition. The first prize was awarded to Axon Motor Company in Clearwater, Fla.

Hill’s prize came at a good time. A drop in the coconut supply and a seasonal dip in tourism hurt his business, so he’s pursuing a new entrepreneurial idea. He is working to design a better coconut opener.

This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Job Fair For Veterans, Especially Those With Disabilities

Bay Pines VA – C.W. Bill Young Medical Center. Photo Courtesy:

A job fair with special emphasis on opportunities for veterans with disabilities is set Thursday, August 2, 2018 from 5-8 p.m. at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System (VAHCS).

Similar job fairs have been conducted in the past and have been instrumental for Veterans seeking employment in the federal government according to a VA Bay Pines release.

“Qualified applicants will be interviewed on the spot, and tentative job offers may be made that day. Applicants interested in positions in Nutrition and Food Service, Housekeeping and Engineering are encouraged to bring their resume, DD214 (Member 4 Copy with Character of Service), VA letter showing disability rating, and Schedule A letter if applicable.”

For more information about the upcoming job fair, please contact Brenda Sykes, Section Chief, Human Resources Management Service at (727) 398-6661, extension 10636.

Transition Help Without The DoD PowerPoint Slides

Soldiers line up to check in for the job fair sponsored by the Fort Campbell, Ky., Army Career and Alumni Program office. Hundreds of transitioning service members, veterans, and their family members took part in the event.

My thanks to Barrett Bogue, Student Veterans of America vice president of Public Relations and Digital Engagement, for passing along a new website focused on transitioning service members.

While the issues covered in Rebootcamp may sound similar to the TAP classes you sat through, don’t worry – there’s no “death by PowerPoint” here. The site includes edutainment videos, informative how-tos, custom tools, and inspirational stories about veterans.

Education, employment and entrepreneurship are the cornerstones of the new site, Rebootcamp, produced by the Military Times. The strength of the website; the many partners that contribute.

A huge chunk — maybe even a majority — of the information, advice and other content that you’ll see comes from more than a dozen partners, spanning veterans service organizations, government agencies and the private sector.

A few of the recommended articles:

Another resource to check out, Project Transition USA, a non-profit organization that shows service members how to use LinkedIn to help transitioning military find meaningful careers in the civilian world.

75 Employers At Military Spouses, Veterans Job Expo


In addition to the job opportunities – military spouses and veterans who register prior to the event will have a chance to win free tickets to the Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Ottawa Senators hockey game.

The Hiring Our Heroes Expo is scheduled Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Amalie Arena, 401 Channelside Dr, Tampa, FL.

However, doors open at 9 a.m. for those interested in the free, Career Connections employment workshop to help build your resume and translate military skills into civilian skills. There are additional resources for connecting with veteran-friendly employers, digital networking and job search techniques.

Expo sponsors, in addition to the Lightning, are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Lockheed Martin and USAA. Employers range from large, national companies to smaller, regional businesses.

Since 2011, Hiring Our Heroes has helped hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment through more than 1,100 job fairs in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and on military installations overseas.

Veterans Get Free Training For “New Collar” Jobs

About a dozen veterans took part in the intense week-long training and certification offered for free by IBM. The first session of 2017 was offered in Tampa, FL.

It’s estimated the high tech industry will create more than 200,000 “new collar” jobs in the next three years. To fill those positions, IBM is tapping into a workforce that’s already well trained – veterans.

“We need to get people to hit the ground running and be productive,” said Tampa IBM executive Stuart Bean. “And you just can’t fill them unless you have people who are already disciplined, already trained, mature enough, (and) can hit the ground running.”

Tampa IBM hosted the first veterans session of 2017 followed by a free veterans’ session this week in at Asher College in Las Vegas and April 3 in Pittsburgh, The Tower at PNC Plaza, 300 Fifth Avenue. Additional sessions are available in Philadelphia, Houston and Fort Hood, Texas and several other cities. Continue reading

Florida Puts Out Call To All Women Veterans

Florida has 160,000 women veterans living in the state, yet some of those women do not consider themselves a veteran and many more have never applied for veterans’ benefits.

 Female Veterans in Iraq. A New Resource for Female Vet on VA health care and benefits: 1-855-VA-WOMEN. Credit Department of Veterans Affairs

Female Veterans in Iraq. A New Resource for Female Vet on VA health care and benefits: 1-855-VA-WOMEN.
Credit Department of Veterans Affairs

Matching women veterans with available benefits, resources and support is the goal of the 2nd Annual Women Veterans’ Conference July 30-31, 2015 at the University of South Florida

“Women veterans have a lot of gender specific issues,” said Alene Tarter, director of benefits and assistance for the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs (FDVA). “But often they don’t consider themselves veterans because male veterans or male family members have told them that they are not.”

She said many of the older women veterans are unaware that their veterans or entitled to veterans benefits.

“I’m a veteran. I only served a couple of years in the Air Force and I didn’t know I was a veteran for 25 years,” said Larri Gerson, supervisor of claims for FDVA.

From a previous Operation Stand Down.

From a previous Operation Stand Down.

Raising awareness and then helping women file for their veteran benefits is one reason why the state agency is planning the free, two-day conference in Tampa.

“I’ll be talking about the appeals process having women veterans understand what we can do to help them with their claim for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and MST, military sexual trauma,” Gerson said.

Sessions also will cover employment, vocational training, and an elder law expert along with an opportunity to sit down with benefits experts from the FDVA who will help women vets with their claims.

The 2nd Annual Florida Women’s Veterans Conference is free and open to women vets, their spouses and support. Online registration is available through the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Launching Careers, Finding Jobs for Vets with ‘Urgent’ Need

Russ Barnes, a retired Air Force colonel, who designed the USF Veterans Employment Project.

Russ Barnes, a retired Air Force colonel, who designed the USF Veterans Employment Project.

Despite the improving economy, finding a job or establishing a career remains a challenge and will be especially so for the million or more military service members expected to transition to civilian life in the next few years.

So, the University of South Florida Office of Veteran Services created the Veterans Employment Project, thanks to a grant from the JP Morgan & Chase Company, to prepare USF student veterans for the competitive civilian market.

Russ Barnes, a retired Air Force colonel with 27 years of service, designed the program. More than 30 student veterans applied, but the sessions need to be smaller to provide one-on-one help.

So, he prioritized the applicants with a survey. Those who scored 10 out of 10 as “urgent” that they find a job in the next three months were accepted first.

“We want to solve that right now,” Barnes said. “They’re urgent. We want to get them right now.”

The employment project he created is not the typical workshop. Barnes turns things upside down. Instead of starting with resume writing, he ends with it. He begins by focusing the veterans on their passion, their ideal career or job.

Then, he guides them working backward, identifying their industry of interest, researching companies, and then honing their resume to fit the job description.

USF student veteran Joshua Gleaton will graduate in May 2015 with a criminology degree.

USF student veteran Joshua Gleaton will graduate in May 2015 with a criminology degree.

By the end of day one, Barnes had the six student veterans in his August session signed up on Linked In. They had to join a professional group in their area of interest, researched companies and made personal connections with people working in their desired profession.

Joshua Gleaton spent more than four years in the Army as a forward observer. The former sergeant is completing a degree in criminology as he works with students at the USF Office of Veteran Services.

“These guys are veterans, they have military experience, there’s still an enormous amount of competition in the work field,” Gleaton said.

His goal is to have a career as a state game warden or work in criminal forensics for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Gleaton said the mock interview process helped him the most.

“One question that caught me off guard is ‘What is my biggest weakness?’ because you don’t want to sound like you have a weakness,” Gleaton said. “You try to turn that into that into a positive answer. “

Student veterans pair off to complete an exercise during a 5-day USF Veterans Employment Project August session.

Student veterans pair off to complete an exercise during a 5-day USF Veterans Employment Project August session.

To prepare the student veterans for interviews, Barnes brought in Crista Shaw, a disability and employment specialist and author of Passport to Education.”

After introducing herself on day four, Shaw, who volunteered to come, started with a couple of questions the veterans may encounter during a job interview.

“Has anybody here been fired from a job, two, three, my hand is up too,” Shaw said, putting them at ease. “I’ve been fired from a job. Let me tell you how to answer this question. “

Shaw did role playing with Franklin Castillo, a Marine going for his MBA. She worked with him on how to shorten his answer and bring the question back around to the present and positives he learned from being dismissed.

“If you leave with one thing today, I would tell you wherever you go you’re in an interview and if you can just be yourself, relax and be yourself,” Shaw advised.

Castillo is one of the student veterans who marked in his survey that it is urgent he find a job in the next three months. He wants to work for a commercial bank in anti-money laundering and fighting fraud.

Russ Barnes conducting the Veterans Employment Project session at the USF student veterans lounge.

Russ Barnes conducting the Veterans Employment Project session at the USF student veterans lounge.

“I came here with a preconceived notion, now as we’ve gone through the week, I’m so desirous to put this to work,” Castillo said.

Barnes said the employment workshop works both ways. Helping veterans adjust to the civilian job market and assisting employers by dispelling common myths about military veterans.

“Some of the misconceptions: in the military they always tell you what to do. They tell you what to eat, where to go what to do. They tell you when to do it, they tell you how to do it. And then you just do it,” Barnes said. “Many business owners say ‘I can’t have someone like that in my company, I need somebody who will be creative and work on their own.’ That is definitely a misconception.”

The workshop ended on the fifth day with mock interviews for the veterans. However,  Barnes said there’s a sixth module – the actual interview and job placement. He plans to stay in touch with all the student veterans until they land their ideal position.

In the interim, a third USF veterans’ employment 5-day session is scheduled to start Sept. 15, 2014.

You can listen to the radio story on WUSF Public Radio.

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