The military community is among the most neglected special interest groups in America—Veterans are disproportionately at risk for mental health disorders, substance use disorders, post-traumatic stress, and traumatic brain injury as compared to the rest of the population. The suicide rate among those formerly in the military is twice that of the general population. Oftentimes, the spouses, children, and parents of our Veterans are just as impacted by these after effects.
Thus, facilitating reentry into civilian life is a critical project. This is the mission of Action Zone, an organization working to provide the military community in the Tampa area with the support and tools they need to become successful entrepreneurs.
“There was just no one else doing this important work,” explained Rosie Lee, Action Zone’s Executive Director. “Action Zone is unique because it’s a cause organized by the military community for the military community.” A military spouse, daughter, and mother herself, Rosie personally understands the deep need for assistance among Veterans and their families.
“When you’re in the military, you belong to an extremely tight-knit community. Losing those connections is one of the hardest parts of reentry, even 5, 10 or 20 years later, so we try to cultivate something similar through our organization.”
As a serial entrepreneur, Rosie knows the challenges and hardships of starting and sustaining a business. Serendipitously given the opportunity to serve Veteran entrepreneurs nearly five years ago, she found her calling. “I was not prepared for the desperate gratitude from every Veteran I encountered,” Rosie shared. “Just knowing how great the need was and how much our help meant to those Veterans was life-changing. For me, it was finding the thing I was supposed to do with my knowledge and skills. For them, it was finding a community that cared and had the resources to help.”
Those encounters inspired the birth of Action Zone.
Once organized into cohorts of twenty, participants are put through a gauntlet of programs designed to cultivate trust in each other and transition them from a military mindset to an entrepreneurial mindset. The staff at Action Zone maintain that there are lots of similarities between the two states of mind—the trick is getting participants to recognize how their military skills translate into enterprise.
After the entrepreneurial mindset workshops, the cohort goes through a “validation camp,” where participants are stripped of their personal technology and taken to a campground. Tasked with building a business in the wilderness, starters are compelled to collaborate, learn from each other’s strengths, and become realistic about their business idea and the customers they hope to serve.
“The trick is getting participants to recognize how their military skills translate into enterprise.”
Upon return from the validation camp, the cohort find themselves in none other than the CO.STARTERS Core program! “I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life, and I thought CO.STARTERS was pretty on point for making the information digestible, but completely comprehensive in terms of what an entrepreneur needed to know,” Rosie said of the flagship program.
“Action Zone brings much more to the table than a text book. The networking, exposure to mentorship opportunity, connection with resources and line-up of expert contributors are invaluable bonuses.” – Dr. Dan Cooper, Chiropractor, Fall Cohort 2018-2019
Cohorts can take advantage of a number of different programs after completing CO.STARTERS Core, such as a goal-mapping program that guides starters through the process of executing their business model and setting milestones for the next 1–3 years. Action Zone has also recently launched an incubator program for new and existing businesses that need the strategic guidance to increase revenue and stability, as well as tackle the operational challenges impeding growth. For six months, admitted ventures participate in practical application workshops that provide hours of one-on-one coaching with CPAs and other business experts, while also meeting with a board of advisors for strategic long-term success.
In the relatively short time the organization has existed, Action Zone has made a name for itself as the center for Veteran entrepreneurship in the Tampa area. Their reputation has earned them the attention of numerous collaborators and regional partners.
“We love reaching out to other entrepreneur support organizations that aren’t Veteran specific to see how our programs and services and theirs can help all entrepreneurs. Each player in the industry is made stronger as a result of that spirit of cooperation.”
“We are really dedicated to facilitating collaborations with other organizations in the community,” said Rosie, when asked what other communities could learn from Action Zone’s work. “We do not dilute the system by offering services already available in the market. We love reaching out to other entrepreneur support organizations that aren’t Veteran specific to see how our programs and services and theirs can help all entrepreneurs. Each player in the industry is made stronger as a result of that spirit of cooperation.”
“I could not have gone through this journey without Action Zone and their support. Thank you to the entire team for helping me accomplish and celebrate this achievement! Your support of our military entrepreneurship community is absolutely priceless!” – Dr. Natacha Delince, 2019-2020
Action Zone’s programs and services focus on the early stage entrepreneur, those in the early ideation stage of a business or new product or service in an existing business. The success of the Veterans in their programs has drawn the attention of community entrepreneurs not connected to the military community. In response, Action Zone activated a for-profit arm—Action Zone Academy—providing the same comprehensive support for budding entrepreneurs that are not militarily connected. Action Zone and Action Zone Academy, together, will support the heart of their organization, the military community that inspired them to begin and continues to energize their work.