From the Canadian Forces to market forces

Based in Business helps veterans start their own businesses

Published on July 27, 2012
Paul Wilbert is a network administrator and IT consultant. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram

When Paul Wilbert injured his back for the third time, he knew his nearly two decades in the Royal Canadian Navy was coming to an end.

The leading seaman, currently serving with the HMCS Queen Charlotte of the naval reserve in Charlottetown, said his service-related injuries meant he wouldn’t be able to go back to the job he trained for, computer engineering, before his time in the navy.

It was while he was considering his post-Forces career that he learned about Based in Business, a program designed by Memorial University’s Students In Free Enterprise team from a career counsellor, which he saw as an opportunity to start his own business.

“I knew that working for someone else, with my injuries, just wasn’t feasible anymore,” he told The Telegram Wednesday. “I’ve got a background from my father from construction, I’ve got a background in information technology, and I’ve got 19 1/2 years of experience through the Canadian Forces in terms of time management — just a whole slew of skills that can be put toward opening my own business.”

He said he wants to open an energy engineering firm to provide clie-nts with geothermal, wind and solar energy for homes and businesses.

“As the world oil prices are increasing, and our energy demands and needs, I thought there was uniqueness there, and the Canadian Forces, because I’m an honourable 3B medical release, they will continue my salary at 75 per cent and pay for all my schooling for up to two years,” he said.

Wilbert’s starting an two-year energy engineering course at Holland College in Charlottetown for the technical know-how. For the business training, he’s enrolled in Based in Business’s weeklong “entrepreneurial boot camp,” running this week in St. John’s, where Wilbert and 18 other Forces members learn from small-business professionals as well as MUN’s business administration students and faculty.

“It’s phenomenal, the amount of information that I’m exposed to here, from marketing right into business development, strategies. And it’s just very, very appreciated from many of us that are here,” he said. “All the aspects, from accounting, marketing, we’re getting into legal aspects tomorrow of owning your own business. Today we just went through a whole three hours of social media and learning how important simple things as tweeting or Googling or Facebooking has on the impact of running a business.”

Diana Fleming, Based in Business project manager, said the program was born when the Department of National Defence approached Memorial’s Students in Free Enterprise team — following the team’s World Cup win in Singapore in 2008 — to create a transition program for entrepreneurial-minded Canadian Forces members who were leaving due either to medical reasons or retirement. The following year, Based in Business was launched with five participants.

“We’ve grown it every year since then. We’re always evaluating what we do to try to change it and back it better,” she said. “We do it because they do so much for our country, so any little way that we can give back to them — that was our goal with this project.”

The program is being presented by Prince’s Charities Canada — which supports the Canadian charitable work of Prince Charles — working with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation.

“His Royal Highness, of course, has a long involvement with the armed forces, both in the U.K. and in Canada,” said Matthew Rowe, spokesman with Prince’s Charities Canada. “He trained here in Canada at Gagetown, and he’s a colonel-in-chief of seven different Canadian regiments, and so he’s wanted to do something with the Canadian Armed Forces for a while.”

Based in Business, said Rowe, plugged a gap in programs for Canadian Forces members leaving the military, which had many resources for members returning to traditional jobs, but very few for members who wanted to start a business.

“We heard about this amazing program here at Memorial University run by SIFE, that had won a United Nations award for their work training veterans, to provide them with business training,” said Rowe. “So he put all those pieces together and put together the Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur, which combines attendance at this boot camp … with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation’s financing, as well as their mentorship.”

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