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At Ft. Knox Summit, Veterans Learn How To Become Entrepreneurs

Charley Jordan gives a talk at the Ft. Knox entreprenuerial summit
Charley Jordan gives a talk at the Ft. Knox entreprenuerial summit

Brenda Coates is close to retirement, and she can’t wait to get her startup ideas off the ground.

Coates, 60, moved from Fort Carson in Colorado to Vine Grove, Kentucky five years ago after her husband retired from the Army. She wants to start a transportation service to take people without vehicles to places such as health food stores and the mall. Coates would also like to open a healthful living resort, where visitors can come weeks at a time and enjoy massages, cooking and nutrition classes.

"I already have a business plan," she said.

Coates was one of dozens of attendees at an entrepreneurial summit this week for vets and their families. She said she learned about things like venture capital and business loans.

The Ft. Knox summit called "Turning Your Great Ideas Into Gold," was organized by the Kentucky Innovation Network, which is partly managed by the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. The goal: to give veterans the tools they need to start their own businesses.

Charley Jordan, an active service member and a farmer, spoke at the event. He’s retiring in July 2017. He said the transition from the military to agriculture is a natural one. He said it makes sense that veterans would want to take care of the land.

“They are so willing to work hard, they wanna continue to serve their country,” he said.

The government has offered to help these aspiring farmers. The 2014 Farm Bill created $9 million for assistance to veteran farmers, as well as minority farmers and ranchers.

Lisa Boone, director of the Kentucky Innovation Network branch in Elizabethtown, wants to attract vets to the Commonwealth who may wish to move back to their home state after retirement.

“We want to tell them and encourage them to stay here in Kentucky,” she said. “This is a great culture for entrepreneurship.”

Other programs exist -- including money for the GI Bill and education benefits, which can be used to get a degree or certified credential.  But If you’re more of the enterprising type, you can’t use that money to start a business.

Evelyn Ellis, Chancellor of Western Kentucky University’s campus in Elizabethtown/Ft. Knox, was one of the hosts of the summit. She’s a self-described military brat; her father was a veteran of the Korean War.

She said some service members don’t want to go to school but they do want to start a business.

“In recent years, there has been some discussion within the military community as to whether they should continue with the GI Bill or the educational benefits as they’ve been in the past,” she said.

Ellis sees an event like the summit as the beginning of a conversation to this problem. She said if the GI Bill ever changes to allow service members use the money for a startup, attendees at events like these will be ready.

“What we want to do is be at the cutting edge and help transformation occur," said Ellis.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.