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Westie trades battlefield for Lion’s Lair
Doug Setter used to make his living jumping out of airplanes for the Canadian Airborne Regiment.
But he says getting ready to become an entrepreneur is scarier.
To ease his transition from career military man to independent businessman, Setter, 55, enrolled in the Lion’s Lair project at BCIT.
He is one of six ex-military personnel, along with five civilians, participating in the project.
Setter and the others were matched with mentors in the business community, and attended workshops on research and marketing, and creating a business plan.
Tuesday, Setter put himself to the test in the Lion’s Lair, a kind of Dragon’s Den competition where students in the project pitch their business plan to a panel of judges.
Up for grabs was up to $10,000 in seed money to help launch their idea.
While Setter didn’t win, he said the experience was “pretty intense.” And he’s learned enough to be able to go to a bank with all the information they’ll need should he require a small business loan.
The project started last year and is run by Enactus BCIT, a coalition of student, academic and business leaders who work to encourage entrepreneurship. It is one of three paths available in the school’s Legion Military Skills Conversion program.
The soldiers who apply to the Lion’s Lair project are focused and passionate about their business idea, said program director Kevin Wainwright. But they lack the fundamentals of preparing a business plan.
“They want to take control of their lives, they’ve thought about this,” said Wainwright. “Often it ties back to their military experience.”
Setter, a sergeant in the Royal Westminster Regiment, wants to start a personal training business for people 40 years and up.
He has plenty of experience whipping younger men and women into shape as a drill instructor, but as he prepares for his new career, he said older clients are more motivated.
“They don’t mess around,” said Setter.
“They’re my generation and I can relate to them.”
But, said Setter, translating his boot camp experience into the civilian world has been anything but easy.
“You need sales skills, you need to market yourself,” said Setter. “It’s hard to apply your military experience.”
Wainwright said most military personnel transitioning to civilian careers don’t know how to articulate that completing tasks under pressure, working in a team environment and being accountable are valuable, marketable skills.
“None of those skills get recognized,” said Wainwright.
The loss of regular routine and the camaraderie of fellow soldiers can be difficult. Setter has lost colleagues to suicide because they couldn’t cope with the transition to civilian life.
“You need a way to get out,” said Setter. “You have to be able to show you can do things.”
The workshops demanded Setter do serious self-examination, to assess his own strengths and weaknesses.
Working with the mentors and participants in the Lion’s Lair has given him the confidence to advance his business idea.
“It definitely helps you see other people who have success,” said Setter. “You have someone to talk to, there’s a support network to share ideas and answer questions.”
Most important though, the Lion’s Lair program has convinced him of the value of his military experience in the real world.
“I’m in the mindset where I stop thinking about my military background,” said Setter.
“I’m kind of pumped about getting ahead, making it work.”