05/19/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/18/2014 05:59 EDT

Royal visit 2014: Prince Charles gives soldiers business 'wings' for life after military

If things go according to plan, naval Lt. Scott Harrigan will meet Prince Charles for the third time today, as he escorts the heir to the throne around the Military Family Resource Centre in Halifax.

For Harrigan, it's an honour of course, but it is also a chance to show how grateful he is for the way Charles has, indirectly, been helping him move toward a new life after his military service ends.

The 40-year-old Harrigan has served with the Canadian Forces in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Haiti, and is one of nearly 400 people who have taken part in Operation Entrepreneur, an initiative of Charles's Canadian charity.

"I don't think people realize the depth to which he takes part in these things and how closely he follows them," says Harrigan. "I think it's very cool that he does this."

That Charles is interested in such things as helping retiring servicemen and servicewomen is not a huge surprise. A Royal Navy man himself, who did some training at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick back in 1975, the prince has had a longstanding interest in military affairs.

The Operation Entrepreneur program run by Prince's Charities Canada aims to help military personnel make the transition to civilian life by helping those who want to start their own business.

"I don't think a lot of military members realize that they are in fact, or have, the entrepreneurial spirit," says Harrigan.

He was one of those who took part in the program's week-long business boot camp. He began an e-commerce website selling dog leashes composed of intricate naval knots, a skill he learned during his downtime at sea.

But now he has moved on to other products like glow-in-the-dark safety rope and vests.

"It's starting to snowball right now," he says, noting he's fielded inquiries from as far away as Tahiti.

Filling a niche

While his business sideline is not yet paying all his bills, Harrigan, who continues to teach demolitions at CFB Halifax, hopes it eventually will.

That sort of potential lies at the heart of what Operation Entrepreneur aims to do for those members of the Canadian Forces making what can be a challenging transition to civilian life.

"The prince came to us and said there's record numbers of individuals leaving the Canadian Forces. I want to do something to help them and thank them for their service. Where are the gaps?" says Matthew Rowe, manager of operations and partnerships for Prince's Charities Canada.

They looked around and found one noticeable void.

"Although there were a lot of skills training programs, there was nothing in the way of support for those that wanted to be entrepreneurs," says Rowe.

So they set something up, working with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, which is an affiliate of the prince's international charity. A student group at Memorial University in St. John's developed the week-long boot camp.

At the camp, courses are taught by university professors, while the participants are mentored by students, who help the would-be entrepreneurs flesh out their business plans.

The participants are then linked up with a mentor in the community for up to two years and can apply for up to $45,000 in financing.

Paid a price

For Gino Savard, taking part in the program gave him the confidence he needed to launch his green delivery business in Quebec City.

"Operation Entrepreneur gave me the wings that I need to be an entrepreneur."

​Savard has 27 years in the military, starting in the reserves in 1987 and transferring to the regular forces as a combat engineer three years later. He served on five missions: three in Yugoslavia, one in Haiti in 1996; and then Afghanistan in 2009 with the second battalion of the Van Doos.

His dream to be a chief warrant officer ended on Sept. 6, 2009, when an IED exploded, killing two of his comrades. He was pinned under the vehicle they were in, and left with injuries that trouble him to this day.

"The major problem is my back because I can't do anything. I have to take care of it. This is my big problem."

Savard, whose last day of military pay from CFB Valcartier will be on Thursday, says he had found it "very hard to make the transition" from military to civilian life.

An email from a friend alerted him to Operation Entrepreneur, and its launch in Quebec last year through a program at Laval University.

His new business, he says, is doing well. He has four hybrid vehicles for a personalized delivery operation that focuses on parcels of less than 30 kilograms.

What's more, some of his employees are also ex-military and some are coping with post-traumatic stress from their time in uniform.

For Savard, having someone such as Prince Charles involved in a program like this is an indication that those wounded in Afghanistan "are not left by themselves."

It "tells me we can do something after that mission," he says.

'Some of us are injured'

Operation Entrepreneur has also opened doors for Chris Linford of Sooke, B.C., who was released from the military with the rank of lieutenant-colonel two months ago.

"To be listened to, to have our voice heard as far as an idea for a business, is very important," says Linford.

"I found that very empowering as a transitioning soldier to know that my idea is good."

Linford had written a book, Warrior Rising, about his experience with PTSD, which developed from his time in Rwanda and, later, from heading a combat hospital in Kandahar.

When he was trying to get the book published, he was interested in doing a more public speaking and becoming self-employed. Operation Entrepreneur, which he learned about from a previous participant, seemed like a good way to get that business off the ground.

"As a guy with PTSD, it took quite a bit of effort on my part just to keep it all together for the week because it was quite overwhelming, but I learned so much."

Linford found great value in the connections he made with other veterans, mentors and the professors providing the lectures.

The biggest takeaway was to "concentrate on where your strengths are, and hire against your weaknesses," he says.

In his case, that meant finding someone else to look after the social media side of his business, something that is not his forte.

The business Linford first envisioned – public speaking around his book – "has not really happened," but he and his wife are currently developing a program to help couples dealing with PTSD in their home.

"It’s going to be a six-day retreat that will eventually expand across the country," he said. "People are buying into it faster than I can pitch it."

Linford says he really appreciates that Prince Charles has taken the "time and energy and money" to invest in those military people who are leaving the force.

"We've served our time. Some of us are injured. Not all of us were. And he's taken the time to invest in that population. I think that really sends an important message to the Canadian population that I think a lot of people probably missed."