Syracuse University Magazine


J. Michael Haynie

Game Changer

J. Michael Haynie went fly fishing in Montana this summer—his first vacation in five years. It’s not surprising he has little time to indulge his favorite pastime, given the whirlwind pace of his teaching, research, and administrative responsibilities as the Barnes Professor of Entrepreneurship in the Whitman School of Management, founder of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), and executive director of the newly formed Institute for Veterans and Military Families. “Higher education has something to offer this generation of veterans beyond access to education,” says Haynie, who served in the military for 14 years. “Within higher education, we have knowledge, skills, abilities, and resources that have yet to be brought to bear on solving some of the most pressing problems faced by vets and their families.”

A native of North Wales, Pennsylvania, Haynie joined the Air Force ROTC as a freshman at the University of Delaware and was commissioned as a second lieutenant at the onset of the first Gulf War. “In college you start thinking seriously about what matters and what doesn’t matter to you in the context of what you’re going to do with the rest of your life,” he says. “What motivated me to join the military was this idea of being part of something bigger than myself.”   

Ten years into his military career, Haynie was selected to teach at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. As part of the assignment, he was sent to the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in entrepreneurship and business strategy, an interest he developed as an aide-de-camp to a four-star general who was in charge of Air Force Materiel Command. “He wasn’t the stereotypical general officer,” Haynie says. “He approached what he did in a very entrepreneurial way, and I was fascinated at how that changed what we did for the better. It was that experience that got me intellectually interested in studying entrepreneurship.”

When Haynie left the military in 2006 to pursue an academic career, he was drawn to the Whitman School because it has one of the top entrepreneurship programs in the country and because of SU’s Scholarship in Action approach. “I got the sense SU was a place where there would be opportunities for me to use my skills and interests as an academic to actually make a difference in the world one way or another,” Haynie says. “While I enjoy academic research— and I’ve been successful in terms of publishing—it’s not what motivates me to get out of bed in the morning. Instead, it’s this idea of service and what I can bring to the table to make a difference.”

It only took Haynie about five months on the job to see an opportunity and act on it. He was working with a doctoral student who was examining why many immigrants turn to entrepreneurship when they come to this country. Haynie came across similar data about people with disabilities: They are self-employed at a rate two to three times higher than the general population because it allows them to accommodate some of their disability-related issues. “At the time I’d also been reading about the unprecedented number of post-9/11 service members leaving the military with a disability, and those two things came together in my head,” he says. “I said to myself, ‘Here I am a military veteran, I teach entrepreneurship at a school where the dean is a Vietnam War vet, so why don’t we take what we do well and create a social venture that uses our expertise to help veterans with disabilities become business owners?’ And that’s how the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities was born.”

EBV is a game changer for many of the veterans who go through the rigorous training program. It draws on the skills and attributes they learn in the military that are suited to business ownership—self-reliance, single-mindedness on accomplishing a mission, and persevering until the goal is realized. “We try to fill their toolbox with what they don’t have, such as the technical and practical skills needed to write a business plan, develop a marketing strategy, and deal with legal and supply chain issues,” Haynie says. “We also weave disability-related issues into the curriculum to help them understand what resources are available and how to overcome challenges.” 

Haynie’s brainchild has proven so successful that EBV is now offered at seven universities nationwide and has expanded to include three new programs: the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans’ Families; Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship; and Operation Endure & Grow, an intensive online entrepreneurship and small business training program for National Guard and Reserve soldiers and their families—all under the umbrella of SU’s new Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

 In recognition of the impact these programs are having on the nation’s veterans, Haynie was present at the White House launch of Joining Forces, an initiative spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden L’68, H’09, to support and honor service members and their families. “Never in a million years could I have imagined EBV would be so successful,” Haynie says. “We didn’t have a grand plan to take the program nationwide. It was just something we were going to do here at SU because it was the right thing to do and because we could. It was a classic entrepreneurial moment.”   —Christine Yackel 

Photo courtesy of the Whitman School of Management

A New Mission

Today in America 22.5 million military veterans are facing an urgent crisis: 15 percent are unemployed; 30 percent of veterans ages 18 to 24 can't find work; 200,000 are homeless on any given night; and 17 young veterans commit suicide on any given day. Syracuse University's new Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), which officially opened on campus this past Veterans Day, was created to tackle these critical issues head on.

Established with a $7.5 million gift from JPMorgan Chase, IVMF serves as a national center in higher education focused on the social, economic, education, and policy issues affecting veterans and their families. The institute also acts as an umbrella for all of the Whitman School's veteran-focused entrepreneurship programs, including the highly acclaimed Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities.

IVMF's 20 staff members conduct in-depth analyses of the challenges facing the veteran community, capture best practices, and serve as a forum to facilitate new cross-sector partnerships that can offer innovative solutions to some of the service members' most critical problems. "We're excited about the institute's potential to make a historic difference for this generation of veterans," says J. Michael Haynie, IVMF founder and executive director. "Higher education has an important role to play because we have skill and experience dealing with trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide prevention, among other areas of expertise. Now, world-class experts from around the country will have a platform to leverage their knowledge to help service members and their families live more prosperous and productive lives."