Operation Startup helps veterans start businesses

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A new program in Hillsborough County is thanking veterans for their service and sacrifice by helping them start their own businesses.

On Thursday Hillsborough Community College unveiled Operation Startup, a place where veterans can connect with other veterans to get their businesses off the ground.

"We're trying to make Tampa Bay the Silicon Valley for "vetrepreneurs" and I think we're well on our  way to doing that," said program founder and HCC professor Andy Gold.

"Tampa's just very vet-friendly, it's entrepreneur-friendly, so just being able to have a space to come work is going to be awesome," said Air Force veteran Kimberly Blackmon, who is working to launch her own beauty product business.

The new center located in the HCC Entrepreneur Collaborative Center in Ybor City offers space to work and collaborate, as well as mentoring and educational workshops. The program is completely free to those who've served, veterans' spouses and even their civilian business partners.

"Veterans are really great at becoming employees, we're a really great asset to a company but we're never really taught to how to be an entrepreneur, to go off on our own and take that leap of faith," said Mark Fetterman, Navy vet and co-founder of The Homefront Foundation, a non-profit that helps veterans talk about their experiences and share their stories. "Helping us and mentoring us through [the startup] process really does go beyond just saying, 'thank you for your service.'"

For more information on Operation Startup and how you can volunteer to help the veterans it serves, visit: http://www.operation-startup.com/