Deploying new skills

FVTC Venture Center's Envoy Program helps vets launch businesses

Posted on Nov 30, 2017 :: Workforce Education
Jessica Thiel
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Roy Landskron, a 61-year-old retiree and army vet with a hungry mind, had launched businesses before — and had fun doing it. But success didn’t come until he found his way into Fox Valley Technical College’s Envoy program. Landskron and his wife, Holly, also a military veteran, had run a fish farm on their 40-acre plot of land in Shiocton for 12 years. After retiring from a career in wastewater treatment, Landskron decided to pursue a new endeavor: organic duck farming.

To help him launch his business, aptly named Happy Quackers Farm, he turned to Envoy, an entrepreneurship program run through a partnership of FVTC’s Venture Center and Veteran’s Resource Center. The program wrapped its inaugural session in November, with 15 veterans participating.

Made possible through a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, Envoy was available to any veteran attending FVTC or living in its service area who wanted to launch, grow or scale a business. The grant covered tuition for the vets for the intensive 14-week course. Participants were paired with mentors and met once a week for three-hour sessions featuring the Venture Center’s E-seed business startup program.

Landskron says he didn’t enter Envoy with a strong business plan, and he credits the experience with pushing him to investigate ideas he wouldn’t have otherwise considered and building his confidence. He worked with mentor David Lindenstruth, owner of VanZeeland Nursery & Landscape.

“It helped me considerably,” he says. “It got you to think. We all learned a lot.”

The program helped Landskron refine his plans for the farm that includes about 250 pekin ducks, one goose that shepherds the ducks and five goats that help clear brush. He’s switched from conventional farming to organic practices and plans to pursue organic certification in the future, build a barn for the ducks and eventually venture into poultry processing.

Amy Pietsch, director of the Venture Center, says Landskron’s business have a huge impact on the food processing industry.

“I see him as being the 21st century revival of the food chain in rural America,” she says.1217_Workforce_Education_2

In addition to giving vets business skills, Landskron sees a bigger gain. Many vets are hurting, he says, and the program helped give purpose to some who were struggling.

“(There are) veterans who have problems, and (this) helped,” he says. “I know at least three. It made a world of difference.”

Ann Schueller, an army veteran who works as corporate director of human resources for Neenah Enterprises, joined the program to develop a plan for a business she and her husband will run after retiring in the next few years.

She and her husband, also a veteran, purchased 164 acres of land in Peshtigo for Schueller Farms, a cherry and lavender farm. She had written business plans before, but never anything in depth.

She worked with mentor Dale Walker, director of Business and Industry Services at FVTC, who provided guidance and feedback on her plan. The Schuellers built a barn and planted 150 cherry trees last spring. It will take five years for the trees to bear fruit. They also plan to grow lavender, which they’ll sell for fresh, dried and oil extraction uses.

Schueller also envisions hosting weddings and events on the farm eventually. Schueller says she drew particular value from listening to the guest speakers share their experiences of launching a business, and though the program involved a lot of writing and research, she said both left her better prepared for starting her business.

“Writing a business plan by pieces was a really great idea because it really made you dig deep into all the different sections,” she says. “It’s really hours on the computer researching, but it’s interesting stuff. It’s your business.”

Pietsch says veterans come with a lot of skills that make them natural entrepreneurs, including understanding emotional intelligence, good decisionmaking, people and soft skills, IT acumen and work ethic.

“They come equipped with leadership skills,” she says. “They come equipped with analytical skills that help them be able to understand systems and processes.”

The first-ever class spanned generations, from millennials to baby boomers and diverse cultural and familial backgrounds. Participants also entered at various stages of development in their business plans, with some only in the idea phase and others with business plans already underway. This helped classmates learn from one another, Schueller says.

Pietsch would like to run two more 14-week sessions of the program in 2018, with 15 veterans in each. There’s already a waiting list for the next opportunity, she says. For now, though, she’s celebrating the success of this year’s grads.

“There are some big ideas in there, and there are some real opportunities they’ve identified,” she says. “I have no doubt they will succeed.”