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The Review

How veterans are changing the startup landscape


Canada's ex-service members are changing the world one big idea at a time

Approximately 66,100 Canadian Armed Forces members and 21,700 part-time reservists are currently serving, according to a 2015 National Post article. Meanwhile, annually about 5,000 men and women retire or are “released” by the federal government.

This means every year a large number of military veterans who haven’t reached mandatory retirement age must find new careers in the private sector. It’s a difficult transition that can leave many unsure about how to compete for jobs in a tight economy that favours seasonal and part-time workers.

For veterans who entered the military without a college or university degree this transition can be even more challenging. On top of that, the skills honed and perfected in the field aren’t always compatible with private sector jobs.

However, it’s the unique traits veterans possess in spades — their natural leadership skills and ability to adapt — that make them natural entrepreneurs. Time spent working in stressful conditions and an innate ability to problem solve with colleagues are what can make or break an early-stage company and serve them well in the startup community.

Transitions are never easy

Kathleen Kilgour, the program manager for Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur (POE), understands all too well the difficulties veterans face when leaving the military. That’s why she and her small team provide hands-on entrepreneurial training to veterans across the country.

“When veterans have strict discipline it gives them the desire to achieve any goal”

As one of the few groups in Canada that cater to ex-military entrepreneurs, she gets to see how important entrepreneurship can be for returning military members. It can be a lifeline she explains for individuals who have little support. Her team has taught dozens of veterans basic skills like startup accounting and finance basics.

“The goal is to help those in the military transition. When they leave the average age generally is 41. There’s a big opportunity for them to have a new second career and [we] help them do that.”

The veteran entrepreneur

One of the POE’s recent graduates is twentysomething Taylor McCubbin. The infantry sergeant spent the last 11 years working for the military. He currently serves as a firearms instructor in Trenton, Ontario, but will soon launch his own business, Chimera Firearms Training.

The company will open mid-December. It offers — among many other things — virtual shooting ranges to the public — the first of its kind in Toronto. His foray into entrepreneurship is recent, but the idea of being his own boss was never really foreign, he explains. He always wanted to launch a business but didn’t know how to. POE gave him the skills he, and probably many other veterans need, to turn an idea into a reality.

Looking to the future

“There’s definitely more particular technical knowledge that I had no experience with before POE. Like, for example, marketing, accounting or just developing a coherent business plan and projections,” McCubbin explains. “Those are things that I didn’t know how to do. When veterans are taught those skills, they have what they need to change the world. ”

Veterans are often overlooked but would make the best entrepreneurs, he says. They’re an untapped resource and already predisposed to thrive in a demanding environment.

“The number one thing is that the military teaches you a lot of discipline. That discipline is not a restraint, but a freedom. The more discipline you have in yourself the more you’re free to take on other opportunities, because you can manage your time efficiently,” he says. “When veterans have strict discipline it gives them the desire to achieve any goal they set their mind to [so they can] succeed or fail spectacularly and then learn from it.”