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Supporting Veterans’ Business Dreams

Syracuse University nurtures entrepreneurial spirit.

Exterior of the National Veterans Resource Center with flags waving on a sunny day.

Syracuse’s Blackstone LaunchPad supports student veterans with their business ventures, including partnering with the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families and the Defense Comptrollership Program on specialized training for veterans.

Have you ever had an idea for a business that you know would be successful? Many people—including student veterans—have great ideas for business ventures. But not everyone has the opportunity to develop the entrepreneurial skills necessary to take it to fruition. Luckily for them, Syracuse has the Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University Libraries to help hopeful entrepreneurs pursue their business ventures and creative endeavors.

LaunchPad serves students, faculty, staff and recent alumni from every academic discipline who are interested in research and discovery, building innovative career pathways, and learning the principles of venture creation. Syracuse’s LaunchPad is part of the greater Blackstone LaunchPad network, which in 2013, launched a nationwide effort to provide service members, veterans and their families with resources and business opportunities as part of its Veterans Initiative.

Syracuse’s LaunchPad and its executive director, Linda Dickerson Hartsock, work with student veterans on their business ventures, including partnering with the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) and the Defense Comptrollership Program (DCP) on specialized training for veterans. Hartsock recently led training workshops for two programs hosted by the IVMF as part of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans Accelerate program and a bootcamp to give nonstudent veterans a taste of the college experience. She also hosted a summer workshop for the DCP on venture creation and presentation skills around product and business model development.

“We have really begun to evolve our relationship with the IVMF, which I’m proud of because it is the country’s premier program for veterans, and particularly for veteran entrepreneurship,” Hartsock says.

There are approximately three million veteran-owned business in the U.S. today, and Hartsock says that based on her research with the U.S. Small Business Administration, these businesses are more likely to succeed than those not owned by veterans. Hartsock believes this is due to the soft skills often learned in the service. “When you think about the soft skills that go into entrepreneurship, at the top of my list is resilience, along with problem-solving, team building and conflict resolution.”

Amanda Rylee ’19 and Brian Kam ’16 are just two student veterans among many who have been supported by the LaunchPad as they started working on their business dreams.

Amanda Rylee: Blood, Sweat and Beers

U.S. Army Capt. Amanda Rylee ’19 knows good beer. Growing up in Fairhope, Alabama, her stepmom worked for a company that created portable keg containers and Rylee would travel with her across the country to visit clients at their breweries. From this, she developed a love for craft beer, and once she enlisted in the military she noticed that when servicemembers went out for a beer after work, craft beers were not available. “While there are veteran-owned breweries, none are distributed or sold in military post exchanges.”

Portrait of Amanda Rylee standing beside a tank on display indoors.

U.S. Army Capt. Amanda Rylee ’19 says she envisions creating a craft beer product line for each of the military branches.

Rylee studied entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Her academic interests and love for craft beer merged when she launched her business, Blood, Sweat and Beers, with the goal to create craft brew specifically for a military audience. She says she saw a great opportunity to tap into the rise in popularity of craft beer and interest in military-branded craft beer.

She started working on a business model for a class and connected with the LaunchPad to refine it and raise seed funds. Rylee developed critical leadership skills while working on her business that she applies to her active military career. “I believe my leadership skills and the tenacity, passion and resiliency I acquired through entrepreneurship have helped me succeed in my military career.”

Blood, Sweat and Beers is currently on hold while Rylee is on active duty serving with the First Security Force Assistance Brigade, but she’s eager to return to it once her contract ends. She envisions creating a product line for each of the military branches. Some of the names for her beer include Blue Falcon Lager, Puddle Pirate Pale Ale and Zero Dark Thirty Double IPA.

I believe my leadership skills and the tenacity, passion and resiliency I acquired through entrepreneurship have helped me succeed in my military career.

—Amanda Rylee ’19

“Syracuse University offered a veteran community that was unparalleled, as well as unlimited faculty, peer and community support that I did not imagine was possible,” Rylee says.

Brian Kam: Thrive

Brian Kam ’16 served from 2003 to 2007 as a lance corporal with the U.S. Marine Corps, and he was another student veteran entrepreneur who utilized the LaunchPad to work on something meaningful. Kam started his venture, Thrive, in 2016 after returning from Nepal where he did relief work after a devastating earthquake. Thrive provides vocational educational programs and frontline medical aid to communities in need. Kam and his two co-founders, Ryan Brinkerhoff ’16 and Joshua Moon ’16, turned to the LaunchPad to begin their venture.

Two men sit by small solar panel.

Brian Kam ’16 (left), a former a lance corporal with the U.S. Marine Corps, started his venture, Thrive, in 2016 after returning from Nepal where he did relief work after a devastating earthquake.

“It was Blackstone LaunchPad and Linda Hartsock who helped us put all the pieces together,” Kam says. “We learned what we should be doing, how to form a not-for-profit, how to take it overseas and how to be entrepreneurs.”

While studying international relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Middle Eastern studies at the College of Arts and Sciences, and working on Thrive, Kam also sought assistance from the Office of Veterans and Military Affairs (OVMA). “The OVMA gave me a lot of support while I was a student. They had spaces for me to decompress. I met a lot of veteran friends there who gave me support, and that was critical as a veteran in the Syracuse community.”

Kam is now a nurse in Ogdensburg, New York, working in pediatric psychiatry. He says mental health is often neglected in children, and he was introduced to this work while in Nepal where he witnessed a gap in medical support.

He says it was the entrepreneurial spirit he developed at the LaunchPad that gave him the drive to pursue nursing school. “A lot of things I learned in Nepal, and a lot of things I learned at the LaunchPad, drove me to become a nurse—I found my calling where I can still help those who are less fortunate than I am,” Kam explains.

The OVMA gave me a lot of support while I was a student. They had spaces for me to decompress. I met a lot of veteran friends there who gave me support, and that was critical as a veteran in the Syracuse community.

—Brian Kam ’16

Purposeful listening is essential among the skills he learned at the LaunchPad that he uses daily in his nursing. “My ability to listen purposefully and thoughtfully allows me to validate my patients and their experiences, to diffuse mental health stigma and misinformation, to help identify their stressors, emotions and strengths, and to inspire healthy coping mechanisms and a commitment to self-compassion and mental health well-being. Purposeful listening remains the most essential skill that allows me to inspire change both through my Thrive projects and in my current role as a pediatric mental health nurse.”

Kam is a now mentor with the LaunchPad, offering his advice to current students and student veterans pursuing their dreams. “If a student has an idea, they should go after it. There are plenty of resources at the LaunchPad that can help them make that dream a reality.”

Lisa Maresca

This story was published on .

Also of Interest

Student writes on whiteboard.

Blackstone LaunchPad

The Blackstone LaunchPad is Syracuse University’s innovation community, connecting the campus ecosystem with a global network that supports innovators, entrepreneurs and creatives.

United States Flag outside of NVRC building.

Veterans and Military-Connected Admissions

Syracuse University participates in all veterans’ education programs and is a Yellow Ribbon school.