Entrepreneurial Family Shares Secrets of Success With Disabled Veterans

Hughes Family Fund supports EBV and other outreach programs

Volume 3, Issue 3 | Summer 2013

As a successful entrepreneur, Robert Hughes ’92 (CLAS) knows what it takes to get a business off the ground. As a proud UConn alum, he believes the University plays an important role in supporting entrepreneurship and strengthening the state’s business and economic climate.

When Hughes learned the School of Business was interested in helping disabled veterans get back into the workforce, he decided to invest his skills, experience and finances in the effort, engaging his family members along the way. He has worked with his family in business for years, so it seemed natural to enlist them in his support for veterans outreach programs.

Together, they established the Hughes Family Fund in the School of Business to support programs for returning veterans like the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), a program that equips disabled veterans with the knowledge, skills and support to start and grow their own businesses and attain economic self-sufficiency.

Robert Hughes ’92 (CLAS) and Laurie Hughes Paternoster ’82 (CLAS).


“Meeting and working with these veterans has been a great experience,” says Hughes, who with his sister Laurie Hughes Paternoster ’82 (CLAS), has served as mentor and helped guide veterans in the program into the world of business and entrepreneurship. “We work with them and help answer questions about developing a business plan, working with staff, dealing with legal issues and marketing strategies,” says Hughes, who is chief operating officer, president and co-founder with his brother Jack of TopCoder, an international leader in identifying, evaluating and mobilizing software development resources. Brother Greg ’88 (CLAS) and sister Mary Abel are also involved in the company.

“The news is constantly full of the everyday problems faced by returning veterans,” Hughes adds. “These men and women have made a tremendous sacrifice, and upon their return, many struggle with problems related to unemployment, stress and depression. EBV and other veterans outreach programs by the University and the School of Business are working directly to tackle those issues.”

The return to civilian life can be daunting, notes Hughes, based on his interaction with some of the veterans in the EBV program. In the military, the chain of command establishes a hierarchy for decisions and responsibilities, and the work day and schedule are pretty firmly established. “The business world, especially entrepreneurism, is pretty different, with its emphasis on creativity and seizing opportunities,” says Hughes.

Since it was established in 2010, UConn’s EBV program has helped more than 25 veterans open 27 businesses.

“We’ve had some nice success,” notes Hughes, mentioning a woman who developed a business plan for a line of leather products for women bikers. She had countless statistics and data about the size of the market and the corresponding market for men’s products. She had also given much thought to designers and possible retailers. “It entailed a lot of homework and it was very impressive.”

Some EBV participants have teamed up to leverage complementary skills. Two female veterans with military experience related to video analysis and aerial surveillance worked together to develop a plan for a company that would offer surveillance services to local and state governments for law enforcement and environmental conservation purposes.

Another source of business ideas has come from home and hobbies. A man from Minnesota, also known as the “Land of 20,000 Lakes,” devised a plan for a mobile bait and tackle shop that would travel around the lakes during the summer and winter fishing seasons.

“If you think about the problems veterans with disabilities have returning to civilian life, and then you think about the role of a university as a place to learn, to interact with people from different social settings and cultures, and prepare to work and contribute to society, it makes a tremendous amount of sense for UConn and the School of Business to support the EBV program,” says Hughes. “UConn is developing a talent pool for the entire state. Including disabled veterans in that pool is win-win, for the state and for the veterans.”