Agencies team to bring business training to vets

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Veterans will gain access to a slew of Internet-based courses and services aimed at budding entrepreneurs in an agreement signed last month between the Small Business Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

SBA will develop distance-learning tools and training for veterans as an extension of the agency's Small Business Classroom distance-learning initiative. The agreement is a result of the Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999, which became law in August last year and mandates the expansion and improvement of programs for veterans who own or plan to start small businesses.

Veterans already can take advantage of SBA's seminars and classes held at SBA and other agency offices nationwide. But the agreement targets the many veterans who can't get to such locations.

"We have a large client base that is not close to any of the larger cities, so we need to provide online services for those remote areas where veterans may nevertheless have access to computers," said Cliff Toulson, assistant administrator for the Office of Veterans Affairs at SBA.

Perhaps because many members of the veteran community live in remote areas or are disabled and can't easily get to the government centers, unscientific surveys have found that veterans are a little better informed than other groups about how to use computers and the Internet, Toulson said. But veterans also are a group with their own needs, he said, and they need more than courses that are available to the general public.

"They want to see courses that are targeted to their specific needs," Toulson said. "We'll take the issues that are talked about by the veterans in the face-to-face classrooms and convert them to programs that can be used for distance learning. They'll include language personalized for the veteran, for example."

There is a core of online courses already available that can be adapted for veterans, according to Woodrow McCutcheon, executive director of the Association of Small Business Development Centers, which is affiliated with SBA. The trick will be in how to take the successful courses taught in classrooms and put them online.

"Not all the courses that are effective as "talking head' courses translate effectively into online courses," said McCutcheon, whose organization will develop the distance-learning courses with SBA. "So we'll be looking to build new, interactive courses that will provide for feedback online and that can be used for formal college accreditation."

Special programs for disabled veterans also will be developed, he said.

As an added incentive for veterans to get involved in these types of courses, the 1999 act mandates a 3 percent federal procurement goal for small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.

In the past fiscal year, SBA served about 72,000 veteran entrepreneurs through its business training and counseling services.

—Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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