University of Southern California


Working with our neighbors to build a strong community

Veterans learn to succeed in business

November 11, 2014

Success begets success. Just ask the veteran entrepreneurs who completed the first cohort of a USC Civic Engagement program.

USC Bridges to Success helped U.S. Marine Ryan Ottosen, owner of a real estate and financial consulting company, qualify for and acquire a large housing voucher contract to help house veterans.

“People mean well and want to help, they just don’t know what to do with us [veterans],” Ottosen said. “There are 4,600 homeless vets in LA County, and since I understand the veteran experience of life integration after a tour, I knew my calling was to connect the two and help veterans secure housing in a more efficient way.”

Ottosen, who served on two military tours and worked as a police officer in Arizona prior to his second deployment, returned from the second tour not knowing what he was going to do.

“I cleaned swimming pools for a year, and it was during that year that three things came together — my recruiter mentored me and advised me on real estate, and I quickly became an investment consultant,” he said.

“I always knew I wanted to connect my work to help other veterans, and specifically with housing,” Ottosen explained. “So when I learned that USC was starting a business program for vets, I knew the timing was right to take the idea into action.”

Bigger contracts on the horizon
Meanwhile, the program helped U.S. Army veteran John Palmer accelerate his business through certification. “I now own a multiple-certified business and am able to go after larger contracts,” he said.

Palmer’s company provides security, janitorial and maintenance services that works with 50 independent contractors. It has a staff of 15 full-time employees.

“The connections I made with the instructors and with the other veteran entrepreneurs has been very valuable,” Palmer said. “I understand the concept of the Trojan Family.”

Bridges to Business Success offers a curriculum that includes instruction on marketing, strategic planning, legal issues and government contract procurement.

More than 20 veterans representing every military division participated in the 10 week-program led by USC instructors and affiliates on the University Park Campus.

“USC Civic Engagement is committed to our military entrepreneurs and underwrites all of the course expenses,” said Sergio Gascon, executive director of economic development at the Minority Business Development Agency. “The cohort included businesses that were established and ready to expand, and they each learned from each other.”