Upstate New York is not often the first place that comes to mind among veterans when it comes to establishing a business. Nonetheless, New York’s local governments and NGOs are constantly trying to make the state more enticing for business-minded veterans. Syracuse exemplifies such efforts.
Take for example Syracuse native Chris Dambach’s Veteran Lawn Care Services. After being deployed to the Syrian border area in northern Iraq in 2009, he was ejected for serious injuries and decided to establish his own business. Using his GI benefits, he started the aforementioned lawn care service because he also wanted to be outside and exposed to the elements as some sort of personal therapy. He spent a year taking neighborhood projects and acquiring extensive knowledge for his trade. Eventually, he acknowledged the demand for what he does and decided to take on commercial clients.
Eager to learn, he took the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans in Syracuse University.
The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University teaches and encourages veterans to develop their businesses through this program. Attendees are taught how to secure financing, operate a business, and other vital information. In its 11 years, the program has empowered over 1,600 veterans. 72% of them established their own businesses, 92% of which still operate today, one of them being Dambach.
Those who wanted to start their business as Dambach did may also want to look at Clear Path for Veterans (CPV). CPV aims to connect local vets to resources and networking opportunities. Its mission is to “restore, reconnect and integrate” former service members to the community. Strong ties with members of the community are invaluable for any veteran who is starting a business.
Being a veteran, Dambach maximized his federal benefits. It’s a wise decision as federal support for veteran businesses contributes to the development of local ventures in Syracuse as well. The Office of Veterans Business Development of the US Small Business Administration (SBA) has a variety of programs which provide access to financial aid for start-ups. These include the Veterans Business Outreach Program which gives lectures, workshops, mentoring and training activities, and concept assessments. It’s mainly for veterans who have business ideas but have no idea where to start.
There’s also the Vets First Contracting Program which has ‘set-aside contracts’ for Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSBs) and Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSBs). Verified veterans can apply for ownership of these contracts to create their own company.
Veterans like Dambach who are serious in entering Syracuse’s entrepreneurial scene need a deep understanding of how businesses work. In addition to attending seminars, federal programs, and business bootcamps, vets can go back to a traditional school for a degree in entrepreneurship, take an online course, a brief internship at a successful local business, or a research and development program with an established business development firm. Business Administration is one of the programs that tackles entrepreneurship on a holistic level. Maryville University points out that business and financial operations will employ more than 630,000 people from 2014 to 2024. In-depth knowledge on these aspects will allow any business owner to tap into the growing demand in the sector. It’s even more crucial for vet entrepreneurs who are just starting out, as they will be able to make more informed business decisions.
That’s exactly what Dambach did when he tirelessly did research on running businesses with the help of Onondaga Small Business Development Center. His efforts paid off, as he was able to get his first federal contract afterwards. In an interesting twist, it turns out that his first contract is with the Reserve Center where he had been assigned with the Marines. Showing up in civilian attire, he recalled that his friends couldn’t believe he was there to mow the lawn.
Intent on growing his business further, Dambach also consulted the North Country Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) in Watertown for their expertise in federal contracting. His efforts led to a multi-year deal with Brooklyn VA Hospital. As it was his first gig outside Central New York, he went the extra mile to deliver the best services. He and his crew drove all the way down to Brooklyn every two weeks, and they had to sleep in the equipment trailers. The dedication and work ethic he showed in that contract allowed him to score a $3.5 million dollar landscaping contract with the Long Island National Cemetery. Dambach’s success in the lawn care industry snowballed after that and it’s now a multi-million dollar business. It earned him the SBA Syracuse District’s Veteran-Owned Business Achievement Award in 2015.
Syracuse seems to be on the right track and veterans would fare better if they just get the right support, skills, and willingness to put their business ideas into action.
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