UND program accepts first class of disabled vets with entrepreneurship ambitions


David L. Dodds

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

College of Business & Public Administration


Twenty-five students enroll in pioneering School of Entrepreneurship/Center for Innovation program that is among only four of its kind in the nation

The first class of 25 disabled veterans, who are working to become entrepreneurs, has been accepted for a new University of North Dakota program that will teach them about starting out and succeeding in business.

The first class has already begun its rigorous entrepreneur education with online instruction.

The Veterans Entrepreneur Program (VEP) is a national program offered at just four campus around the nation: University of Florida, Oklahoma State University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and now UND. At UND, the program is offered through the UND School of Entrepreneurship and the UND Center for Innovation Foundation. Both entities are part of the UND College of Business & Public Administration.

The disabled veterans enrolled in the course have roots in the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard, according to Tyler Okerlund, VEP director.

Okerlund, too, is a disabled veteran, whose military career included stints in the Navy and National Guard.

Ambitious veteran entrepreneurs at UND gain the advantage of learning from one of the nation’s leading entrepreneur programs as well as have access to successful entrepreneurs to help guide them to success.

The VEP includes three phases: a five-week online self-study curriculum which started in September, a seven-day intensive, classroom style "boot camp" at the Center for Innovation Oct. 22-29 and up to eight-months of comprehensive mentoring from successful entrepreneurs starting in November.

"When disabled veterans return from service, some are interested in starting their own company because they have ideas to explore or wish to be independent and not work for anyone else, but they are not sure what the next steps are to launch a new venture," said Tim O’Keefe, chair and executive director of the UND School of Entrepreneurship. "This rigorous entrepreneur program prepares and assists veterans for the next steps in creating and running their new venture.

“The boot camp consist of a week of intensive hands-on learning and face-to-face interaction between the veterans, faculty, guest entrepreneurs and business experts.”

He added, “The VEP will focus on areas such as marketing, business law, finance, strategy, building a team and negotiations. It includes instruction from professors at UND's School of Entrepreneurship, leaders at the Center for Innovation, VEP founder Michael Morris of the University of Florida and Jeff Stamp, entrepreneur-in residence at the UND Center for Innovation Foundation and a nationally and internationally recognized entrepreneur educator and coach.”

“The program is free to the disabled veterans, with expenses underwritten by private donors including the Edson & Margaret Larson Foundation, the Dakota Foundation, the Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau and other sponsors in the Grand Forks community,” said Bruce Gjovig, CEO of the Center for Innovation Foundation. “We have raised donations to cover their costs and to feature our best entrepreneurship faculty and successful entrepreneurs to provide entrepreneurial-minded veterans the boost they need.”

Mentoring and venture development, the third and final phase of VEP, includes eight months of ongoing mentorship and online networking. The phase is designed to give the veterans feedback to concerns specific to their ventures

More about VEP:

The Veterans Entrepreneurship Program offers rigorous, experiential training in entrepreneurship and venture development to soldiers, sailors, airmen, members of the guard, and marines disabled as a result of their service. The intent of the VEP is to open the door to entrepreneurial opportunity and small business ownership, by developing their competencies in the many steps and activities associated with creating and sustaining an entrepreneurial venture, and also by helping them coordinate their efforts with programs and services for veterans and others with disabilities.