Joe Giordano devoted 20 years of his life working in the United States Army before transitioning to a new career path, but he recognized that shifting careers was not seamless for many veterans.
That’s why he founded Project Opportunity in 2010, a free entrepreneurship training program for veterans who aim to start a small business or expand their current venture.
The program, based on the Eastern Shore, was created to give veterans a non-traditional job path.
“I was very concerned about the high veteran unemployment rate in Maryland,” Giordano said. “I just really wanted to give veterans an alternative to traditional employment.”
Over nine years, Project Opportunity has expanded to Annapolis, Baltimore, Columbia, Glen Burnie, Prince George’s County, Anne Arundel County and Southern Maryland.
The program’s instructors are comprised of veterans with small business ownership experience. Courses vary depending on the instructors, covering a wide range of topics such as marketing strategies, money management and navigating social media.
Giordano said that many veterans who have completed the program tend to pursue businesses that focus on military service-related work, consulting, government contracting and food service.
“In a course for each class and each region, you’re going to have different subject matter experts so the information that the veterans gather is going to be the same, but different as well,” he said.
Despite leading an admirable cause, Giordano said he didn’t expect to get so much backing for his program.
The program has received grants from, among other organizations, the Kahlert Foundation, Safeway Foundation, Rural Maryland Council, the Lower Shore Workforce Alliance and TowerCares Foundation. Sponsors include TEDCO, Allegis Group, Wells Fargo and several private sector businesses.
“The willingness of individuals, agencies and organizations to provide support [has surprised me] because this is a veteran program,” Giordano said. “The enormous giving back that people want to give to our veterans has really grown and continues to increase as we move forward.”
In January, Giordano said he will receive funding to begin providing business coaching and mentorship for all graduates, offering an entrepreneurship training course for spouses and running workshops and seminars for small business owners across the state.
“We’re excited,” he said. “There’s interest across the state of Maryland. We’ve formed partnerships with many organizations to continue to provide business education and experience for veterans.”
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