Retired commander Derek Hughes is one of 19 participants this week at Memorial University’s Based in Business, a boot camp for Canadian Forces veterans transitioning into entrepreneurial careers. — Submitted photo
Derek Hughes left Corner Brook at 17 for a career in the military that would carry him through 35 years. Now that he’s retiring, he’s turning to a program created by Memorial University students to apply his training to an entrepreneurial career.
He spent 10 years in the ranks on submarines, and then took his commission to complete an undergraduate degree in engineering, and moved on to Canadian patrol frigates, eventually becoming the engineer of HMCS St. John’s.
“In ’97, when the Cabot was over here and the queen was over here, I was the engineer of HMCS and toured around as escort as the Queen was going around Bonavista and other areas,” said Hughes. He later completed a master’s degree in marine systems engineering in London, and served as an exchange officer for five years with the Royal Navy, before coming back to Canada in 2004.
He started working in project management in Ottawa. That, coupled with volunteer work for the Project Management Institute — eventually becoming president of the non-profit professional association — has awakened a passion for the field, one that he intends to pursue now that he’s retired (as a commander) from the Canadian Forces. He’s set up a consulting firm for project management and systems engineering.
That’s where Based in Business comes in. It’s an entrepreneurial “boot camp” for Canadian veterans, a weeklong session — created my MUN’s Enactus team of business students — of seminars, presentations and mentoring, to help provide a bridge to the business world. Nineteen transitioning members from across Canada took part in the second annual boot camp this past week at Memorial, and are marking their graduation in a ceremony this evening. Hughes said the course has helped him navigate from his first career to his next.
“One of the challenges from being in the military from the age of 17 to 53 is having exposure and knowing what’s out in industry,” he said. “It’s quite isolated from a military perspective, unless you’re allowed a period of transition. The skill sets to pick up to start up my own business has been fairly challenging: (where) to go, who to trust, and what resources are out there.”
The course has helped, said Hughes, by showing him what is out there while sparking his own ideas of how he’s going to build his own business.
“Really, it’s a road map and an action list, a to-do list, that hopefully I can take the transition period a little faster to get to where I need to get to as I’ve challenged myself to get incorporated,” he said.
Matthew Rowe is the manager of charitable operations for Prince’s Charities Canada, which presents Based in Business through its Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur program, in partnership with Enactus Memorial and the Canadian Youth Business Foundation. Rowe said the program has expanded since its first incarnation last summer, due entirely to demand.
“Last year we had 19 participants. This year we have 54,” he said. “So we’ve expanded. We have the class here, 19 here, and there’ll be 20 at the University of Regina, where they’ll be putting it on for the first time, and then 15 at the University of Laval, where it’ll be delivered in French for the first time. That’s part of our ambitious plan. We plan to add another university next year — we’re looking at the University of Calgary — and then another university the year after that. So it’s a pretty rapid growth, but it’s amazing to take what started as a student initiative here at Memorial and has now become a national program.”