Mirza Tihic’s ’03 (A&S), ’04 (ECS), ’06 MBA, G’19 (SoE) interest in helping military veterans and their families stems from the peace the U.S. military helped to bring to his native Bosnia in the mid-1990s. His love of entrepreneurship came from his family, particularly the encouragement of his father. In 2020, the two paths re-converged as he accepted a position as a post-doctoral researcher in the Martin J. Whitman School of Management’s Department of Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises (EEE), while also a member of Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) research and analytics team.
Emigrating to the U.S. in 1999, Tihic came to Syracuse University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in neuroscience/bioengineering. He originally thought he’d become a medical doctor, but, while earning his master’s degree, he determined that was not his calling.
“Something was finally making sense to me, and I decided to pursue entrepreneurship through the Whitman School,” he says. “I never knew that was a possibility before, but, to me, the best way to empower people is through entrepreneurship.”
He went on to earn an MBA at the Whitman School in entrepreneurship and marketing. Later, while employed at the University, he decided to pursue a Ph.D. part time through the School of Education, where he focused on social justice, entrepreneurship and disability — with a particular interest in veterans’ disabilities.
He held several positions with the University’s Office for Veterans and Military Affairs (OVMA), most recently as assistant director, before accepting the post-doctoral research position at the Whitman School. According to Tihic, many veterans, in general, have challenges transitioning out of military life. The military skills they have learned, however, can often be easily transferred into entrepreneurial roles, but the opportunities can be difficult to secure. Veterans are often disadvantaged in social capital and the ability to find funding and support overall, says Tihic. He noted that after World War II, 50% of veterans were entrepreneurs, but that number has dropped to only about 20% today.
Tihic hopes to help change that through his role in the management of the National Survey on Military-Affiliated Entrepreneurships (NSMAE) initiative, a multi-year study of veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs. The NSMAE is a multi-year, annual and longitudinal study of veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs and a collaborative effort by IVMF and the Whitman School made possible through the support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
Part of Tihic’s post-doctoral work includes researching attitudes toward entrepreneurship within the social capital of people with disabilities at the Whitman School under the leadership of Associate Dean for Undergraduate and Master’s Education and Professor of Entrepreneurship Alex McKelvie, who is designing courses and training programs for the Whitman School’s IVMF. Tihic and McKelvie recently received a Whitman Roadmap Research Grant to develop a research instrument that will help measure attitudes toward entrepreneurship within the social network of people with disabilities, including veterans. He hopes this will help further his research and show that entrepreneurship is a feasible option for people with disabilities.
In addition, he has also had the opportunity to teach in the EEE department. “I love the opportunity to give back to the students,” he says. “I hope to empower them and teach them the skills that someone once taught me. It is great to see student in the EEE program struggling with how to make their ideas happen — and then suddenly they understand how they can do it!”
Tihic knows first-hand that it can be done, telling the story of coming to the U.S. as a refugee with 10 other friends. “Only two of us have finished our degrees and now work in professional positions,” says Tihic, who himself has been a part of several start-ups, including founder and chief entrepreneuring officer of Bey Designs, LLC, and founder and consultant of Tihic Construction, LLC, a family business. “The best way to empower people is through entrepreneurship. As an immigrant, I believe in entrepreneurship for veterans and other disadvantaged groups. Entrepreneurship saved me. Who knows where I would be today otherwise?”
What he does know is that he never imagined he’d be an academic, but he is forever grateful for the opportunities he was given at the University. “Syracuse helped me to understand where my passions for veterans and entrepreneurship aligned,” he added. “I am forever grateful and forever bleeding Orange.”
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