167th AW is site of first-ever Boots to Business class in W. Va.

Christina Lundberg, from the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, instructs members from the 167th Airlift Wing on aspects of starting their own business during a two-day Boots to Business class that was held on base May21-22. Classes covered everything from developing a business plan to how to market a product or service. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle)

Christina Lundberg, from the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, instructs members from the 167th Airlift Wing on aspects of starting their own business during a two-day Boots to Business class that was held on base May21-22. Classes covered everything from developing a business plan to how to market a product or service. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle)

Martinsburg W.Va. -- The 167th Airlift Wing was the site of history in the making when it became the first Guard unit in the Mountain State to host a two-day Boots to Business class May 21-22 in its dining facility.

More than 30 people participated in the United States Small Business Administration - sponsored Boots to Business: From Service to Startup (B2B) class. The program is offered as a component of the Department of Defense's redesigned Transition Assistance Program (TAP).

The comprehensive two-day class is normally only offered on an active duty base to separating Active Duty service members and/or Guardsmen requiring TAP. Guardsmen are congressionally-mandated to complete TAP if they have been on Active Duty Title 10 orders for 180 consecutive days or more on or after Oct. 1, 2012.

Sherry Lewis, the Airman & Family Readiness Program manager, was instrumental in bringing the Boots to Business class to the 167th AW.

Lewis noted that it appears that this was the first time that the Boots to Business class was offered nationwide to traditional service members at an Air Guard unit.

"This class has never been open to National Guard service members in West Virginia before who were not TAP participants," she said. And those service members are usually sent to Joint Base Andrews or their closest Active Duty station for the two-day Boots to Business optional track.

After working with the wing's Conversion Office to help set up the Department of Labor Employment Workshops for Airmen affected by the reduction in force (RIF), Lewis learned that many attending aspired to become entrepreneurs.

"It was during several of the classes I heard service members state that their dream job is to someday open their own business," she noted.

With that knowledge in hand, Lewis reached out to the National Guard Bureau to request assistance in bringing the SBA's class to the 167th AW.

Larry Batten, representing the SBA and Christina Lundberg, from the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, taught various modules on aspects of starting a business, everything from developing a business plan to marketing a product or service.

"Start, grow and be successful at a business," Batten told the classes' participants. "It doesn't take a ton of money to start a business."

Noting: "We can teach you the nuts and bolts of starting a business."

Batten said that "it's a lifestyle to be a businessman. It's a mindset."

The owner of a dry cleaning business and hair salon, Batten said many people are afraid to start a business.

"Don't be afraid of failure. Keep your options open. Be open to ideas," he added.

Batten said that 96 percent of businesses in the Mountain State are small businesses.

Senior Airman Katrina Santamaria, the wing's knowledge operations manager in Comm Flight, found the class very helpful.

"I attended mostly because I have an idea for a small business that has always been in the back of my mind, but I have never pursued because of my small knowledge of the business world," she said.

Santamaria said she wasn't aware of everything that went into starting up a business.

"I didn't know there was so much that goes into something as small as getting your loan approved. For example, having a full business plan mapped out for the banker to review," she said.

"I also had no idea about the Small Business Development Center right here in Martinsburg that will work with you on your business plan, point you in the right direction to get started and coach you throughout the entire process."

Learning how to start a business from the ground up was what prompted 2nd Lt. Heather Wright to attend the two-day class.

Wright said she wanted "to learn about entrepreneurship and the foundational principles involved with starting a business."

Assigned as a nurse at the wing, she said her idea for a small business was Private Pay Advanced Practice Nursing/Health Coaching.

Her business would address "lifestyle modification, preventing or reversing (the) disease process, improving quality of life, health and wellness education (and) educating clients on how to control the controllables."

Wright, who works fulltime during the week for the Inspector General, noted the big takeaways for her from the class were "pursue your passion and don't devalue yourself or your product."

Teaching the importance of not devaluing yourself or your product hit home with her.

"That is one huge aspect of private pay healthcare," Wright said. "Your client/patient values the product they receive because they have freedom of choice in the provider and the product; therefore, they are the full recipient of the service and education."

"It also allows more focused and personally tailored time with the patient which results in a closer, more understanding relationship between the provider and the client."

Another business aspiration of Wright's includes farming.

"In time, I would like to educate others, in some type of workshop, about sustainable farming methods, utilizing symbiotic relationships between animals (such as chickens following cattle in rotational grazing), crop rotation and ultimately more self-reliant living," she said.

Adding: "The two passions go hand in hand, disease prevention/reversing and farming, because the sooner that we realize that what we put into and onto our bodies becomes our flesh and blood and sustains us, then more emphasis will be placed on the purity and quality of the nutritional sustainment that we choose."

She said the Basics of Opportunity Recognition taught during the course reaffirmed her "ideas and passions are well founded and achievable.

Seeking out people who can help, support and mentor you is essential when looking to start a business, she added was another important takeaway.

According to a survey administered to those participating in the two-day class, Lewis said feedback showed that the majority felt the "class met or exceeded their expectations and the class greatly contributed to their confidence in being able to start their own business."

Wright said she would absolutely recommend service members take advantage of the two-day class if it could be offered on base again.

"The course touches briefly on all aspects of owning your own business, even some that you choose not to think too deeply about but cannot be avoided; such as marketing, accounting and legal matters," she said.

Maj. Loretta Kendall, a JAG at the 167th AW, instructed participants on picking the correct legal entity for their business.

Offering future business classes at the wing may be on the horizon.

Lewis said 88 percent of those surveyed were interested in participating in the Regional Contracting Assistance Center's Government Contracting 101 class and/or the WV Small Business Development Center's two-hour Business Fundamentals Workshop.