By Diane Mastrull
The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The competition was for an invaluable entrepreneurial opportunity. But which of the 18 contestants would win?
The double-amputee with a fledgling landscaping business? The artist with post-traumatic stress disorder launching a fine-arts clothing line? The hearing-impaired retiree with a solution for tinnitus?
One by one, they stepped before the panel of 10 judges, Shark Tank-style, with five minutes to pitch their business ideas.
Not that any of these men and women could be considered losers. They have served in the military, suffering disabilities for that duty. To help them and others move on, a St. Joseph’s University alum has donated $1 million to fund the first five years of an entrepreneurship- training program for disabled veterans.
The inaugural class of St. Joseph’s Veterans Entrepreneurial Jumpstart Program (VEJ) — ranging in age from 31 to 82, and hailing from 11 states — convened on campus the last week of April for an education-intense, mentor-rich residency program.
It wrapped with the face-to-face showdown with business-savvy judges. Nobody looked scared. The patriots had been through worse.
Carrying out a mission
“In the very beginning, we worried, ‘Would we even find any students?’ ” said Ralph Galati, director of the Office of Veterans Services at St. Joseph’s. The disabled Air Force vet from Wallingford was a prisoner of war for more than a year after his F-4 Phantom jet was shot down over Vietnam in February 1972.
Finding participants evidently was not a worry of donor Frank Trainer, a 1968 St. Joe’s grad who did not want to be interviewed for this article. His motivation for the VEJ program, Galati said, was a story on CBS’s 60 Minutes about the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities at Syracuse University, founded in 2007.
If St. Joseph’s could establish an affiliation with the Syracuse program, Trainer said, he would fund getting it up and running. That was three years ago, and Syracuse opted against bringing any more schools into the program.