How this Indiana vet plans to put other vets back to work: BTN LiveBIG
Retired Army Maj. Gene Richards wants to give back to the military community by creating jobs for fellow veterans. And he wants to do it by providing living, dining and entertainment options for Big Ten students.
Since retiring from active duty in 2016, the Indiana University grad has taught military science at both Purdue University and the University of Illinois. But that has served as a backdrop to his master plan: Building a multi-purpose facility on campus that would provide student housing, a restaurant, a bar and other amenities near the Purdue campus in West Lafayette, Indiana.
He plans to staff his building with military veterans, his way of giving back to the community. But this is means more than low-paying, no-growth jobs he’s seen other organizations provide.
“When I say I’m offering veterans ownership opportunities, I’m not going to run that bar or restaurant. I’m going to get a veteran to run it,” Richards says. “That’s the type of opportunity I’m looking for: More of a sub-owner within the building. I want to make something fulfilling for them and with upward mobility so they can move up.”
“Instead of making a non-profit that helps people get jobs, I’m just going to create them.”
To launch this effort, Richards started a company called Modern Freedom Lifestyle LLC. His goal is to start with a building at Purdue — he already has a location picked out and is in talks with the property owner.
If all goes according to plan, he wants to put up similar complexes on every B1G campus.
“I’m going to make our place the mecca, where everybody wants to be,” he says. “From a business perspective, it’s a softball. It will make money. All the houses around campus get rented out. If you can build more around campus, they will get filled.”
Richards worked with the Purdue Foundry, a group that helps alumni entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground to fruition. He said the help he received from the group really helped him seek out the people he need to move the project along.
“The biggest thing is networking,” he says. “Getting out there with other like-minded [entrepreneurial] people. Getting new ideas for what you want to do. I’ve had a lot of folks in Lafayette help me out. They’ve really been helpful. It’s really been rewarding. You never know who you’re going to meet at any given event.”
Having earmarked a property, Richards has already worked with a local architect to help design the building. Now the next step is securing the funds to get the project started. He started a website (www.mflifestyle.com) which he hopes will serve as a crowd-sourcing measure for funds.
But he says it will take much more than a few dollars here and there. Richards is looking for a major investor, though he’s hoping to avoid a venture capitalist.
“Regular investors not what I’m trying to do,” he says. “Quite frankly, I’m not about the bottom line, how much money I make. The more money we bring in, means the more we can do for these veterans.”
So, are you a huge Big Ten fan with a soft spot for veterans and a substantial bank account? This could be the deal for you.
“I’d really like an angel partner to come in and say, ‘I really like what you’re trying to do and I believe in it and I want to make it happen.” Richards says.
To borrow a term from both military and athletics: The game plan is in place. Now it’s just time to execute.