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Veteran entrepreneurs — Washington CASH helps unemployed veterans start their own businesses

Many attendees of the Washington CASH business seminar at the Kitsap County Resource Center Jan. 10 were on their second or third job layoff in the past year.

Linda Lee, a former hospital corpsman, was laid off from Naval Hospital Bremerton. She had been looking for another job unsuccessfully and scrapping to keep her family afloat before their savings ran out. Then she remembered that before she joined the Navy, she had made some money selling quilts.

“Most quilters will only get as far as making the tops. I thought, if they bring them in, my business could bind and finish them,” Lee said. “Nobody does that yet.”

Kitsap County has the second highest veteran unemployment rate in the state, said Elizabeth Scott, regional labor economist. Joel Courreges, service officer for Disabled American Veterans believes that the situation is getting worse based on the number of newly unemployed veterans coming in to his office seeking relief aid.

Bremerton’s Washington CASH is a nonprofit group which offers budding entrepreneurs from “low-income situations” business training, community support and loans so they can set up a small business. Bill Hoke and Stuart Walton, program organizers, believe that the creation of jobs is the solution to the veteran unemployment problem.

“You can employ one veteran or you can help him set up a business that employs four others and supports that many more families,” said Walton, who holds business and law degrees.

The course accepts entrepreneurs with annual household incomes below $42,000. All students will purchase a $40 course book, but tuition works on a sliding scale depending on family size and income. The most anyone will pay for tuition is $60 for the whole course, Hoke said. Those with extenuating circumstances may apply for a grant.

Augustine Lujan, a Navy veteran and graduate of the Bremerton class, had security training through the military and the idea to start his own security company. Through Washington CASH, Rush Security was born and now has 14 employees. Lujan recently handled security for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle.

Hoke and Walton accepted business applications from each of the attendees at the orientation. They plan to review each proposal from more than 50 attendees and invite the most viable 30 entrepreneurs back for the 8-week training session.

“Frankly, your desire to own your business is not enough,” Walton said. “You need to learn the laws of money and be practical about the risks.”

At the orientation, Walton asked attendees to fill out forms to determine how much they need to live   monthly and also take stock of assets which could include government assistance, savings or investments. Hoke helped entrepreneurs estimate overhead costs for starting up such as licensing, insurance, marketing and equipment fees.

“The goal is to determine a break-even point where the money going in equals the money coming out” Walton said. “Too many business owners start with unrealistic expectations about time and find themselves in hot water.”

For example, using one attendee’s break-even sheet, Walton demonstrated that the entrepreneur would have to work a 52 hour week before making any profit.

“It’s impossible. You cannot sustain it. Charts like this show you where you need to rethink your plan,” Walton said.

Reynaldo Milano, former chief machinist mate in the Navy, is rethinking his business model for solar panel water heaters.

Milano who has been searching unsuccessfully for work at PSNS remembered that he had developed and sold several heaters to businesses while stationed in Guam. He is interested in green energy and decreasing energy costs for businesses in Kitsap County.

“But I moved here and there is no sun!” Milano said.

Milano’s new strategy for his green energy company, Solare, centers on bio digesters that produce methane to run a generator for homes and apartments.

Veteran entrepreneurs that are invited back to begin developing their businesses will start classes on Jan. 17 at the resource center. Courses will be taught by Hoke and Walton as well as five business consultants, accountants and attorneys as free resources to guide every step from idea to launch.

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