U.S. Navy veteran Quinton Crawford in class
U.S. Navy veteran Quinton Crawford, center, hopes to start his own financial planning venture thanks to the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program.

Entrepreneurship program helps veteran turn passion into practice

Considering Quinton Crawford was a novice to business, he did quite well for himself. He was an electrician, franchise owner of one of the nation’s most popular commercial cleaning companies, and acquired multiple residential properties.

But his business inexperience caught up to him, and forced some unfortunate setbacks. Crawford wants to help other small business owners avoid his mistakes, and he is confident the tools he’s learning in the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) will help him reach his goal.

Crawford, who served in the U.S. Navy for four years as an electrician mate, always had dreams of starting his own business. He took the leap in 1997 when he read about Coverall Cleaning Concepts, a commercial cleaning venture with more than 8,000 franchise owners, in Black Enterprise magazine. Crawford, who at the time was also working as an electrician, set up an appointment with a Coverall representative, and later purchased a franchise.

Crawford said the first two years running his Coverall franchise were great, so much so that he left his job as an electrician to focus on the venture. But his lack of business expertise was too much to overcome. The company’s bookkeeping over those two years was inaccurate resulting in thousands of dollars owed to Internal Revenue Service.

“That was really scary,” said Crawford, 47. “I just didn’t know anything about running a business.”

After negotiating those fees down significantly, Crawford moved into the real estate market, purchasing repossessed and foreclosed homes through the Department of Veterans Affairs. He acquired five properties by 2003, and rented the properties for income.

Then came the housing crisis in 2008.

“I lost all but one of the houses,” Crawford said. “I realized it was time to go back to school, and that’s where I really discovered my passion.”

That passion is personal finance. Earlier this month, Crawford received a bachelor’s degree in Consumer Sciences with a concentration in Family Financial Planning from the University of Alabama. His plan is to start a financial planning venture in Birmingham helping small business owners.

“Many business fail in the first five years, and I see why,” Crawford said. “I had that experience. I want to help people not get in trouble like I did.”

That’s where the VEP comes in. VEP, in its second year of existence at UF, assists veterans interested in starting a business or who already own one. The free program, which is underwritten by sponsors and private donors, consists of three phases: Concept Development, an eight-day, in-class “boot camp,” and mentoring and venture development. The Phase II “boot camp” concluded on Saturday.

Crawford said the experience thus far has been tremendous, especially this past week’s “boot camp.” He said the camaraderie among the veterans has been amazing.

“I had a lot of great relationships in the Navy, and I’ve never been able to form those kinds of relationships again until I came here for VEP,” Crawford said. “There’s no relationship like it. You know they got your back, and they want the best for you.”

Crawford said he’s thankful for the opportunity to participate in VEP, and is eager to return to Birmingham and begin his new venture.

“It’s impossible to explain what a great program this is,” Crawford said. “I’m texting people I know from the military and telling them they need to come here. I can’t wait to start applying what I’ve learned.”