Rich Moulton believes he has a gem of an idea.
A government contractor who retired from the Air Force last year after two decades in uniform, Moulton wants to create a luxury jewelry brand. Moulton came up with the idea after his wife, Zahide, expressed frustration about seeing the same mass-produced jewelry virtually everywhere.
"For a woman with refined, exotic tastes, this would be jewelry from around the world and it would be unique handmade silver and gold jewelry," said Moulton, a combat veteran and father of two who lives in Odenton.
"I stayed in the military for 20 years because I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I'm happy with my current job, but I'd like more freedom to carve my own path. I want to eventually be my own boss with my own entity and resources."
Moulton and 13 other active-duty and retired service members, mostly in their 20s and 30s, attended the Operation Boots to Business workshops offered Aug. 26-27 at the Fleet and Family Support Center.
Started in 2013, Boots to Business provides education, training and resources on entrepreneurship to transitioning service members, retirees and their spouses at military installations around the world. The program is administered through the Small Business Administration, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs as part of DoD's Transition Assistance Program.
The curriculum includes steps on assessing the viability of business concepts, the foundational knowledge required for a business plan, and information on resources for start-up capital and technical assistance.
"The people in the military are sacrificing a lot, and we owe it to them to do our best for them," said Mark Williams, veterans business development officer for the SBA's Baltimore office.
Williams is the coordinator of the Boots to Business workshops held six to seven times annually at Fort Meade. The free workshops are also presented regularly at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Detrick, Naval Air Station Patuxent River and the Naval Academy.
A retired Marine and former Defense Information School instructor, Williams said transitioning service members often are unaware of all the resources available to them for starting their own businesses. Such information is crucial.
"The two main things they need to know are what it takes to start a business and how to find the resources," Williams said. "Being a veteran doesn't give you much weight when you borrow money. It has to be a good business decision or a bank won't lend you money. The lenders try to give leeway to veterans, but it can't be a bad deal."
Among the topics at the workshops were an introduction to the entrepreneurial experience; understanding how to conduct market research and competitive strategy/analysis; an overview of the legal considerations affecting veteran-owned businesses; how to finance a start-up venture; locating resources to support a successful launch and sustainable growth; the pros and cons of franchising; and creating a viable business plan.
Williams said the SBA, in conjunction with the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University also offers a free, eight-week online business-plan development course as part of Boots to Business.
In addition to Williams, guest speakers and instructors at last week's workshops were David Buck of The Entrepreneur's Source, Bonnie Barresi of the Maryland Capital Enterprises Women's Business Center, and Gabe Omaru of the Corridor Region Small Business Development Center.
Omaru said he enjoys talking to service members and veterans about entrepreneurship.
"It's very rewarding," he said. "A lot of people take early retirement and want to run a business for the next 20 or 30 years.