News>Veterans Entrepreneurship Program is dog-gone good for one retiree
Retired MSgt Joe Halenka and his wife saw a need in their community for a dog walking service and through the help of the Florida University Veterans Entrepreneurship Program they hope to grow to 20 clients in the next year. Joe is a retired boom operator and accumulated over 5000 flight hours in his 26 year career. (Courtesy Photo)
Retired MSgt Joe Halenka and MSgt Roxanne Halenka created a dog service with the help of Florida University's Veterans Entrepreneurship Program. The program is free to qualified disabled veterans and provides classroom instruction and mentorships. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Capt. Joe Simms)
4/22/2014 - MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Many veterans spend more than half their lives serving their country, and they carry this core value with them long after they hang up the uniform and join the civilian workforce.
This desire to serve others is what drove retired Master Sgt. Joe Halenka during his 26 year career in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve and continues to drive him today.
Joe, a former boom operator and husband of Master Sgt. Roxanne Halenka, 927th Air Refueling Wing here, found himself working for a pharmaceutical manufacturer after he retired in 2010 but he knew he could do more with the next chapter in his life.
One day while walking his dogs he realized what he needed to do was become his own boss and provide a service for military and civil service workers who spend hours and days away from home.
"Walking my two dogs every day, I noticed how many pets were inside their apartments just wanting to go outside and play," he said. "Roxanne and I can relate to dog owners whose work schedules don't allow them to care for their pets during the day so we decided to start a company to provide the dogs food and water, take them for a walk, and provide transportation to the vet or groomer if needed."
"Joe and I saw a need in our neighborhood and we wanted to provide a solution so we started Halenka's Dog Service," Roxanne said.
Like many new entrepreneurs, Joe and Roxanne knew what they wanted to do but weren't sure where to begin until they found the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Florida.
The VEP provides training and entrepreneurial services for former military members and disabled vets looking to start a new business. The program is funded by donations to the university and is available at no cost to the veteran.
The VEP is comprised of three phases: a five-week self-study component, an intense eight-day training program at the University of Florida in Gainesville and an eight month mentorship program where the university provides a mentor to work with the business owner as the venture progresses.
According to the VEP website, this three phase program offers an innovative and effective combination of focused, practical training in venture creation and growth, as well as support for the graduates of the program.
"It was an intense screening process, over 100 applied and only about 30 were accepted from as far away as Alaska," Joe said. "To be selected you had to answers questions such as 'When you look out five years, what specifically would you like to accomplish?' and you had to provide a business model for them to review."
Joe and Roxanne's business model is based on the idea of a young military member who wants to take their family to Disney World but can't take their pet with them.
"We established the company with the deployed military member or civil service employee families in mind who are unable to take their pets on a daily walk or want to go on a family vacation and want to keep their pets at home and not have to pay for kennel fees," Joe said.
In the first month after creating Halenka's Dog Service LLC, Joe and Roxanne were able to find eight clients through word of mouth and hope to expand to 20 in the next few months.
"Our philosophy is a tired dog is a happy dog and we want to offer the best service for the best price while showing our customers and their pets the respect and courtesy they deserve," Roxanne said.
All applicants must meet three requirements to be considered for the VEP.
Veterans must have separated with an honorable discharge, have been identified as a disabled vet by the VA or DoD or "service distinguished" based on exemplary military conduct and demonstrate an intense interest in entrepreneurship and small business ownership.
Joe begins the Phase II portion of the program May 3 which is the "Entrepreneur Bootcamp". This week long course is an opportunity for hands-on learning and interaction with faculty and exposes participants to the "nuts and bolts" of business ownership, according to the VEP website.
"What I'm most excited about VEP is being able to soak up the knowledge and experience of the instructors and speakers and gaining perspectives and ideas," Joe said.
"I truly believe knowledge is gained through experiences and this is a program to help individuals like myself who want to help society and explore ideas."