Elle Loughan

Entrepreneurship program assists veterans through week-long boot camp

Elle Loughan’s business idea started as a joke.

After sarcastically telling people she wanted to move to a tropical location and teach tourists how to paddleboard, she started to realize it could actually happen. Now, Loughan is planning a June trip to Tulum, located on the Yucatan Peninsula, to look at two possible locations for a boutique hotel she plans to open and call Casa de la Vida.

“(The joke) helped me realize I can legitimately have a business and live in paradise,” she said.

Loughan was one of 38 veterans that took part in the National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP), a free event hosted by the Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center last week. It is specifically designed for veterans interested in starting a new venture as a means to financial independence or already who have an existing business.

Loughan served in the U.S. Army from 2003-2009 as an All-Source Intelligence Analyst, completing two tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“At a tactical level, my responsibility was being an expert on the enemy,” Loughan said. “I was collecting different points of data, whether intel from the boots on the ground or what we had pulled from other agencies. It was a lot of report writing and collecting data to put into a condensed form for a general to read.”

Today, Loughan works as an Outreach Coordinator with Wounded Warrior Project in its Miami office. She works with community partners, wounded warriors and their families to make sure needs are met and the warriors are able to get plugged back into their community. That comes through hosting events where they can meet other veterans, network with each other and share resources.

“It gives them an opportunity to get back into the community,” Loughan said.

Her vision for Casa de la Vida continues to grow. The hotel will have only eight bungalows, fostering a sense of community on the property while allowing visitors to be in a location that creates an experience authentic to the area’s culture.

Loughan said the area served as an outpost for a hippie culture in the 1960s and 1970s. They were aware of eco-conscious aspects in their culture, and the plan is for Casa de la Vida to bring that back. Loughan will have bees, chickens and other animals on site to produce natural food for vacationers with a sustainable, responsible mindset.

“I want people to experience (a tropical vacation), but also have a holistic approach to how we do their stay with us,” Loughan said.

VEP provides a rigorous entrepreneurial learning and development opportunity for veterans with service-connected disabilities and those who have uniquely distinguished themselves in the military. The eight-day residency in Gainesville that took place last week served as an opportunity for hands-on learning and interaction with faculty, guest entrepreneurs, business experts and peer delegates.

“This has been a great experience for me,” Loughan said.