Entrepreneurship often requires a creative approach, breaking new ground and coloring outside the lines. For this reason military veterans, accustomed to a strict chain of command and clear-cut rules and regulations, can find it difficult to make the transition to independent business ownership.
For women, it can be even harder--and their service numbers are significant. Women represent about 15 percent of today's active-duty military, 20 percent of reservists, 16 percent of the National Guard and 20 percent of new recruits, according to Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).
For West Point grad Meghan Florkowski, reinventing herself after leaving the military took many twists and turns. Today, as program manager of IVMF's Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE), Florkowski is determined to help motivated women vets and military spouses navigate the transition to the civilian work force by starting businesses. We sat down with her to get the drill.
What does V-WISE entail?
There are three phases.
Phase one is the 15-day online learning experience to help participants understand the language of business and how their idea or existing business fits into the market. We want them to come out with a well-crafted business plan, to have begun that networking process, both locally and among their cohorts.
Phase two is the three-day conference, where women meet with experts; network; and attend a variety of business-specific classes covering topics such as marketing, finance and social media. Phase three encourages implementation of a fully fleshed-out business plan, with follow-up support from IVMF and a network of business mentors and local resources. The cost of the program is just $75 and includes the entire online curriculum, conference food and lodging.
How does V-WISE differ from entrepreneurship programs for civilians?
V-WISE evolves to best suit the needs and strengths of the attendees. And V-WISE champions the bond that only women service members and military spouses share. The connections are seeded in the online portion and then amplified when the 200 women connect in person.
What are the biggest challenges facing women veterans and spouses?
It's a combination of many things. The average age of our participants is 44, and often these women have abandoned their military affiliation upon leaving the service. Military spouses, too, have relevant leadership experiences and connections that they can capitalize on but don't. Vets and spouses have a particular drive and focus but need mentors who can, through their own successes and failures, help them recognize opportunities and take the next logical step toward business ownership.
What successes have come out of the program?
Since 2011, close to 1,500 women have completed 10 V-WISE experiences. The businesses have run the gamut from marketing to IT, consulting to service- and community-based startups. One of our grads even developed a meal-replacement bar for dogs. The program is young, and launching a business doesn't happen overnight. But with each session, we see more women with innovative ideas that are ripe for growth.
How does V-WISE continue to help once the program is over?
All grads are invited to our V-WISE national conference. It's an opportunity for us to further develop our graduate engagement and outreach. V-WISE chapters are also in the works. We are hoping to have five or six regional groups that can advise others on best practices when it comes to utilizing resources in their own communities.
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