UH Hilo launches new statewide Veteran’s Business Outreach Center

The new center, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, is responsible for supporting transitioning service members in Hawai‘i, Guam and American Sāmoa as they embark on self-employment or entrepreneurship.

By Lara Hughes.

Words "US Small Business Administration VBOC Veterans Business Outreach Centers."The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is one of six recipients currently sharing in a $1.5 million grant to create new Veteran Business Outreach Centers across the U.S. The centers help active-duty military personnel and veterans with starting small businesses.

The Hilo center, launched over the summer, serves veterans in Hawai‘i, Guam and American Sāmoa. The other five centers are in Rhode Island, Georgia, Arizona, Texas and California, bringing the nationwide total to 19.

UH Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney is principle investigator of Hawai‘i’s grant, funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration‘s Office of Veteran’s Business Development.

States and regions were selected as potential veteran outreach sites based on the “Boots to Business” program demand, area military installations, and transitioning population data. Boots to Business is the two-step entrepreneurial training program offered by the SBA as a training track within the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program.

The Veteran Business Outreach Centers are responsible for supporting transitioning service members as they embark on self-employment or entrepreneurship. Part of the funding is used to cover costs involved in doing outreach to increase participation in the Boots to Business entrepreneurship training program on military installations in the U.S. and its territories.

Hawai‘i Veteran Business Outreach Center

The Hawai‘i Veteran Business Outreach Center is offering business counseling, mentoring, and professional trainings to active-duty servicemen and servicewomen, veterans and service-disabled veterans, National Guard and Reservists, and military spouses. All veterans in the service area of Hawai‘i, Guam and American Sāmoa have access to online training, webinars and workshops.

Dennis Kwak
Dennis Kwak

“We cover everything from statistical information about entrepreneurs and veterans, as well as case studies, and business planning,” says Dennis Kwak, interim director of the Hawai‘i center, about upcoming workshops.

Kwak graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst with a degree in marketing and began work as an investment banker in New York. He was later employed by a holdings company in Asia for about 10 years, traveling through Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul, before becoming a senior advisor for the Small Business Development Center on O‘ahu. He worked with the SBDC for six years before becoming interim director of the new Hawai‘i Veteran Business Outreach Center over the summer.

Outreach to veterans

Kwak’s office is based at UH Mānoa in Honolulu to grant better access to the majority of veterans in the state. The services are available free of charge and, recently, outreach programs and workshops are being offered at campuses across Hawai‘i. Kwak is currently planning workshops on Maui and also is working to bring workshops to Hilo.

Kwak says outreach using the Boost to Business platform has been successfully used on Maui and O‘ahu, and there is a plan to bring the two-day VBoot workshop structure to Hawai‘i Island in January.

“We will reach out to community partners, the community college, as well as the other colleges to see how we can put these classes together for the veterans and their spouses,” says Kwak.

The two-day workshops cover eight modules of learning and information, what Kwak calls “the nuts and bolts” of entrepreneurship. He teaches many of the modules, but says that there are also bankers, attorneys and SBA representatives who share their expertise.

“We’ll talk about economics and marketing,” says Kwak.

Feedback so far has been positive.

“Most people find it extensive,” he says. “People do get a lot out of it.”


For more information on workshop schedule and locations, contact the Hawai‘i Veteran Business Outreach Center office at (808) 987-5245 or email vboc[at]hawaii.edu.


About the author of this story: Lara Hughes (senior, business administration) is a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

-UH Hilo Stories.