The Veteran Sisterhood or How to Start Your Own Business

Nell Merlino spoke to the VWISE seminar
Over the past couple of years I've been trying to return to the workplace, since my youngest is in school full time.  I tried applying for jobs, updating my resume, posting on LinkedIn, and networking.    Then I decided to write books just so my brain would be used again.  Lately I've been thinking outside of the box and looking for ideas.

I just spent the past weekend in New Orleans at a workshop for female veterans.  I retired from the Air Force Reserve in 2001.  It's a rare occurrence that I spend time with any veterans, let alone a room full of nearly 200 smart, savvy women who have all served in some capacity.  I was thinking I would be the oldest, but there were women of all ages, races, incomes, etc.  It was a fantastic experience. I enjoyed talking to women from many different job interests and regions.  What we all had in common was that we were part of the veteran sisterhood.

The program is sponsored by VWISE, a college out of Syracuse that has a program to support and provide information to women veterans who want to start a business.  The acronym stands for WomenVeterans Igniting the Spirit for Entrepreneurship.  Anyone who has served on active duty is eligible to participate, though there is an application process.  The hotel room and some meals were provided at no cost, as well as the entire 3 day seminar.  What a great deal!

The program has a self study component which requires some reading, thinking, note taking, and internet communication on a shared website for all the students who plan to attend the seminar. I had to buy my own plane ticket and do some reading, but otherwise, it was a program that catered to information seeking and motivation once I arrived.

The amount of information and services provided was almost overwhelming.  You could get professional wardrobe clothing for free from a group called The Rosie Network.  A photographer was doing professional head shots.  We received a nice bag that contained a thermos, four books authored by speakers who attended, a notebook, business card holder, and more. Their intent was certainly to have you leave feeling like you were ready to hit the street running.

The caliber of the speakers was pretty darn amazing.  Kicking off the second morning was Nell Merlino, the lady who started "Take Our Daughters to Work Day". She encourages women to stop waiting for life to happen and make it happen yourself.  I read her book "Stepping Out of Line:  Lessons for Women Who Want it Their Way in Life, in Love, and Work" on the way home.  It's an easy read, which includes lots of practical exercises which help you create a vision of what you want, with tips on goal setting.

There were also veteran women who already have successful businesses.  They offered inspiration mostly, though there were workshops with nuts and bolts kind of advice.  A former VWISE student, Kristina Guerrero, had been on shark tank the Friday of the seminar, and received a $100,000 check to grow her business.  She spoke briefly about her experiences. You can read more about her at this link. She developed a canine energy bar, called TurboPUP.

So what did I come away from the seminar with?  Well, it became clear that there are plenty of options for women today, whether veterans or not.  Women are great multitaskers and managers.  If they've been in the military, they are used to having responsibility and discipline, both traits would help as entrepreneurs.  There are plenty of setaside programs from the federal government to encourage women run businesses to receive preferential treatment when bidding on services and contracts.  Cities have local small business offices (part of the US Small Business Administration) that provide on-line as well as in house training, much of it offered at no cost.  I thought I had a few good ideas going into the training, but I realized my ideas probably weren't BIG enough.  Most women owned businesses don't even make $50,000 per year.  That might be OK for women who just want something small, but if we want to grow the US economy, it's better to create something larger which can provide jobs.  I plan to continue to do research and take some classes.  Hopefully by summer, I'll have an action plan...and these organizations will then be there with assistance writing a business plan and getting financing.

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