Saskatchewanian Thomas Mebs grew up on a cattle farm about eight miles south of a little hamlet called Percival.
After working as a communications technologist for the Canadian Armed Forces for the past 13 years, he has now decided to return to his farming roots.
“Five years ago I had a little guy and I started to realize, how I grew up, living on the farm … I wanted my little guy to have that chance,” said Mebs. “It’s pretty fun to be out there and he loves being out there.”
So Mebs signed up for the Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur program, a seven-day business boot camp that helps members of the military transition out of the CAF and into starting their own business.
Professors at the Paul J. Hill School of Business as well as undergraduate business students from Enactus Regina volunteer their time and are paired with participants to provide one-on-one mentoring.
Participants learn about business plans, marketing, hiring employees, accounting, the legal side of running a business and more.
“I think people underestimate how difficult it is to actually transition from the military into civilian employment,” said Lisa Watson, associate professor and faculty advisor for Enactus.
She said it’s important to have a program that is mindful of the unique challenges members of the military may have during that transition.
According to Janet McCausland, director of Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur, about 70 per cent of the people who attend the bootcamp are medically released, which means they have either physical or mental health issues that make it difficult to transition into civilian life.
“There are lots of other entrepreneurship training out there, but bringing it together and having people who have served together and also who will face similar challenges as entrepreneurs together is really an important,” said McCausland.
Mebs brought the family farm business plan as a starting point, fully expecting to have to make some changes. To his pleasant surprise, one-on-one mentoring during the week revealed his family is going in the right direction. He said the most important thing for him was to learn the accounting side of things.
“The family has had the farm since the mid-70’s. They’ve done well and I want to ensure that I can be successful and continue it on,” said Mebs. The farm’s main focus is on its commercial herd of Simmental-Red Angus cattle, but Mebs said the family dabbles in a bit of grain farming as well.
McCausland said the businesses people start are often related to what they were doing in the military like security and health and safety consulting. For others, it’s a chance to pursue a passion outside the military like dog treats, retail, or yoga.
Whatever the pursuit may be, the Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur program aims to prepare them for success, even getting local business people and entrepreneurs to mentor the participants during the week.
The program also offers ongoing support in the form of one-one-one business couching by their two entrepreneurs-in-residence, monthly webinars and starting in September, access to pro-bono legal services.
“They’ve certainly done a lot for us and it’s the least we can do to give back,” said Watson.
The program was started by Prince’s Charities Canada in 2012 and takes place all over Canada. More than 200 businesses have been started as a result of the boot camps and this will mark the fifth year the program has been held at the University of Regina.
Graduation of this year’s participants will be hosted the by Lt.-Gov. Vaughn Solomon Schofield on Saturday night.
“I’d just like to say how grateful I am to be able to take part in this,” said Mebs. “It’s been amazing.”