Craig Barnes and Danny Sample
Craig Barnes (left) and Danny Sample.

Entrepreneurship program helps veterans realize business ideas

Now in its fourth year, the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program is a free resource for veterans with service-connected disabilities and those who have uniquely distinguished themselves in the military looking to start a new venture or grow an existing business. Read below about how the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center Veterans Entrepreneurship Program is helping veterans like Craig Barnes and Danny Sample turn their business ideas into reality.

Craig Barnes

Craig Barnes has spent the majority of his career on his feet. First in the U.S. Army, and later in neuroradiology and the medical field for 25 years. The physicality of his work made it more and more difficult to stand and move around all day, especially with his prosthetic knee.

He knew it was time to make a change of career, and luckily for Barnes, his son’s love of photography provided the perfect solution. Barnes, his wife, and son started Creative Pics Photography about two years ago as a part-time business.

Craig Barnes

They offer photography, videography, drone coverage and editing services, and most of their business comes from weddings and events, Barnes said. With the success they’ve had over the past couple of years, the Barnes family is looking to expand.

“We want to do more with marketing and gain more staff,” Barnes said. “We also want to offer more concierge service for our wedding clients and really be a part of the wedding process. We want to make sure we’re capturing the moments [our clients] want captured.”

When Barnes heard about the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program at the Warrington College of Business Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center from the veterans he interviews as part of his position at Disabled American Veterans, he realized it would be a great place to learn how to make the dream of expanding the business come true, but it wasn’t something he would be able to pursue immediately.

“It was something I always I wanted to do, but when you have kids, you have to put things on hold,” he said.

With the upcoming college graduation of his youngest son this year, Barnes will have more time to dedicate to Creative Pics, and he can’t wait to get started.

“If there is ever a time to follow our passion, now is the time,” he said.

Barnes is most excited about learning more about what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

“There’s three levels to business – technician, manager and entrepreneur,” he said. “My son is a great photographer, so he’s the technician part of our business. I’ve had more of the managerial experience, so I fill that role. I wanted to do this program so I could gain more of the entrepreneur skills.”

Barnes said the biggest lesson he’s learned so far is that being an entrepreneur requires you to put both feet in the water.

“I’ve learned that I have to put my whole heart in to what I do,” he said. “I want to create wealth as well as a product that doesn’t just benefit me, but also my family. I want to build something for my sons to have and carry on.”

Danny Sample

Danny Sample frequently travels around the nation in his role as a senior military technician for the U.S. Army Reserve’s training division, and everywhere he goes, he visits the local breweries.

Inspired by the brewers he’s met and the home brewing kit he received as a gift, Sample plans to open his own brewery in an old post office he is currently renovating in Alabaster, Alabama once he retires after 34 years of serving in both the Army and Army Reserve.

“I wanted to build a place that was local and provide a place where people could gather,” he said. “My wife and I wanted to create something that could nicely integrate into the community and a place where people could have fun.”

Danny Sample With his retirement planned for 2019, Sample wanted to learn all he could about the ins-and-outs of running a business.

“I really wanted to learn about the business of business – being able to understand the financing, networking and business development,” he said.

Luckily for Sample, his connection with other veterans he previously worked with organizing the Birmingham, Alabama Veterans Day parade led him to learn about the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) at the Warrington College of Business.

“Being here has really given me the opportunity to breakaway, recharge and refresh my mind,” he said. “I’ve also been inspired by the other entrepreneurs here. It’s great because we all have this mutual respect and understanding that we’re all trying to reach the same goal.”

In fact, Sample has already been inspired by some of the other entrepreneurs he’s met at VEP, like creating a coffee-infused brew he thought of after talking with another entrepreneur that is planning to open a coffee shop.

Sample said he’s also been inspired by the VEP faculty and guest speakers, especially previous VEP delegates that have come back to share how they’ve put what they learned in the program in action.

“It’s been great to learn from all of those who have been there and done it,” he said. “There are so many opportunities out there that I wouldn’t have learned about otherwise, so this has been an eyeopener.”

To learn more about the Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, please visit the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center website here.