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Vets Making the Leap to Entrepreneurship

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Vets Making the Leap

Veteran entrepreneurship across the United States is growing. The U.S. Census reports that 2.4 million small businesses are owned by former service members. That’s roughly one out of every ten small business. Veteran-owned businesses employ almost six million people and create more than a trillion dollars in revenue.

Business leaders have taken notice and now there are a full host of programs that are specifically designed to help Vets get their businesses off the ground. The U.S. Small Business Administration has created 10 Veteran’s Business Outreach Centers (VBOC) around the nation to train new and potential business owners. These centers provide workshops and counseling to Veterans, reservists and active duty military members interested in starting their own business or expanding an existing one.

Since the program’s creation in 1999, officials have seen a boom in Veteran owned businesses. A 2012 report released by the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy also found that Veterans are 45% more likely to start a business when compared to those without military experience. Last year just one of the centers helped launch 51 new Veteran owned businesses.

The VBOC also helps Veterans who are already entrepreneurs. Michael Nevils, a disabled Army Veteran, sells a portable emergency water storage system that he designed. Nevlis turned to the VBOC in order to utilize their programs and expertise to help his growing business.

“The VBOC has been wonderful,” Nevils said. “We’ve had guidance that helped us win government contracts and develop a solid game plan to grow our company and be successful.”

The VBOC does not provide loans, legal advice or accounting services. However, it does assign a business consultant, usually a retired executive, to work with each client to offer advice as they write business plans, develop a marketing strategy and tackle other basics of business.

There are also many other resources for Veteran Entrepreneurs to utilize. The Small Business Association operates more than 900 Small Business Development Centers (SDBC) across the U.S. where entrepreneurs, including Veterans, are given free technical assistance and access to institutions that offer loans and support for growing their business.

At the University of Central Florida, Gordon Hogan helps unemployed Veterans decide if they’ve got what it takes to actually be an entrepreneur through the school’s Veterans Initiative Program. Hogan is the director of the UCF Business Incubation Program. Launched last year, the program is gaining a reputation in the Veteran community.

“When you’ve served your country and you come back as an unemployed Veteran, things can be tough,” Hogan said. “But our servicemen and women are resilient and most are up for the challenge of starting a business.”

The Veterans Initiative offers Veterans who wish to start their own business the opportunity to attend FastTrac® NewVenture™ for the Veteran Entrepreneur, a $700 course for just $100.The course offers technical assistance in how to develop a winning business plan, find the right markets and startup funds.

Veterans who would prefer to own a franchise rather than market new and untested ideas have access to VetFran.  The program is run by the International Franchise Association, which connects Vets with franchising opportunities around the country. The VetFran program offers training, financial and technical assistance and support from the franchising industry to match veterans with the right opportunities.

$98.8 Million Contract Awarded

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded a $98.8 million contract to build a new rehabilitation facility located on the campus of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.

“This new Polytrauma-Blind Rehabilitation Center will allow VA to better serve our Veterans and active duty Servicemembers in a state-of-the-art facility, which will support the exceptional clinical care currently delivered through both programs, ” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

In 2005, the VA Palo Alto Health Care System was designated a Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center. Since then, the program has been housed in an existing facility originally constructed in 1960. The Western Blind Rehabilitation Center, which began in 1967, has been housed in a building constructed in 1977.

The $98.8 million contract was awarded to Walsh/DeMaria Joint Venture V of Chicago, Ill., on Sept. 30. Construction is scheduled to be completed in spring 2014. The three-story facility will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver equivalency.

This will be VA’s first and only Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center to be combined with a Blind Rehabilitation Center. At 174,000 square feet, this new facility is the largest consolidated rehabilitation center in VA. The Rehabilitation Center includes 24 beds for the polytrauma program, 32 beds for the blind rehabilitation program, and 12 beds for the polytrauma transitional rehabilitation program.

The center will also have an outpatient physical therapy/occupational therapy clinic, an outpatient physical medicine and rehabilitation clinic, and clinical programs for Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans. In addition to the new Polytrauma-Blind Rehabilitation Center, a 600-car, four-story parking garage will be constructed adjacent to the new facility to support the growing demand for onsite parking.

Providence, RI – Nominations are now being accepted by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for the 2012 Rhode Island Small Business Person of the Year and other small business awards. Winners will be honored during the Rhode Island Small Business Week celebration in June.

Awards will be presented in 10 categories. Any individual or organization dedicated to the support of the small business community may submit nominations for these prestigious awards. Award guidelines and nomination forms are available from the SBA Rhode Island District Office by calling (401) 528-4561, or by visiting the SBA Website at The Nomination deadline is Thursday, November 10, 2011.

The other awards include: Entrepreneurial Success Award, Jeffrey Butland Family-Owned Business of the Year, SBA Young Entrepreneur of the Year, Small Business Exporter of the Year, Financial Services Champion, Minority Small Business Champion, Veteran Small Business Champion, Home-based Business Champion, and Women in Business Champion.

The Rhode Island Small Business Person of the Year will also have the opportunity to participate in the National Small Business Week activities and meetings with government officials in Washington, DC, and will compete for the National Small Business Person of the Year Award.

Champion awards are presented to persons who have used their professional skills or personal talents to further public understanding and awareness of small business. Candidates must have taken an active role in creating opportunities to promote the interests of small business. Persons nominated for Champion awards need not be an entrepreneur.

For more information about the SBA Small Business Awards, contact Faith White at (401) 528-4561, or by e-mail at

2011 Women in Power Impacting Diversity

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VAMBOA would like to congratulate Wendy Matheu for being named one of the DiversityPlus Top Women in Power award winners. Ms. Matheu, the Supplier Diversity Manager at Amgen, was responsible for Amgen’s sponsorship of the Power Your Business Conference in April, and she also served as Emcee of the event.


Diversity urged for business at conference

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By Allison Bruce

There hasn’t been a better time for securing government and corporate contracts if your company helps meet diversity requirements, but that doesn’t mean those business owners can sit back and wait for customers to come to them.

Instead, those small business owners need to pursue certification, register as potential suppliers with organizations and companies, and do their research — on the contracts they are pursuing, on their competitors’ capabilities and on what they can offer to set themselves apart in an increasingly competitive market.

That was some of the advice speakers offered and repeated throughout the day to the roughly 200 people in attendance at the “Power Your Business” supplier diversity conference at Amgen’s conference center in Thousand Oaks on Tuesday. The day, which targeted minority, women, veterans and gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender business owners, covered topics from securing government contracts and corporate business to personal finances.

There are legal requirements in place that drive certain government agencies and corporations to pursue diversity in supplier relationships, but that’s not all.

Johnson Controls, which has spent more than $1 billion each year since 2002 with woman- and minority-owned suppliers, pursues diversity because it strengthens the company’s supply base, makes it a good corporate citizen and builds the bottom line, said Lorenzo Bell, supplier diversity manager for the company.

“The No. 1 reason why we do it is because it makes us money,” he said. “If we make money, our customers make money and our suppliers make money.”

It also lets the company differentiate itself when it approaches its own customers in the automotive, battery or building efficiency industries, he said.

Corporate representatives said it was important that suppliers have certification that recognizes that they meet the requirements as a minority- or woman-owned business.

For veterans, certification is a more muddled process, which includes certification through Veterans Affairs to handle certain government contracts; through state programs, which aren’t recognized at the federal level; and through the Small Business Administration.

That can be a challenge and a headache, as some attendees noted their own experiences with the lengthy process and dismay at not having a single certification recognized across agencies.

There are efforts, such as a single website that would pull together information from across departments and agencies for veteran entrepreneurs, that might help, said William Elmore, associate administrator for veterans business development for the Small Business Administration.

Being certified as a minority-, woman-, veteran- or LGBT-owned business is a quick way to show that a business meets all of the requirements of that certification, but business owners should take advantage of other resources available through the certifying organizations, such as trade shows, networking and directories, said Candace Waterman, senior director of compliance and alliance relationships for the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council.

“Certification is like a gym membership,” she said. “If you don’t use it, it’s not going to work.”

Other speakers agreed that the certification is necessary, but it’s not what gets a foot in the door as a supplier. That comes from setting the business apart from the competition, building a relationship with companies and agencies and honing — and specializing — a quick pitch on what the company can do based on the demands of the contract.

Diane Esqueda is an account manager with Agnew, a translation agency based in Westlake Village that is WBENC-certified. Esqueda said certification often is the added element needed for the opportunity to bid on an account.

She and other attendees said they were at the conference to learn information that would help their businesses and network with others.

“Amgen is one of our clients, a number of organizations here presenting are our clients and the room is filled with potential clients,” she said.

Steps of Success

Tips for diverse suppliers from Tuesday’s speakers at the “Power Your Business” supplier diversity conference:

  • Pursue certification as a way to help you land business and help your buyers meet their diversity requirements.
  • Do your research. Know the company or the government contract you are pursuing and be able to say how your business can meet their needs in ways different from your competitors.
  • Tailor how you pitch your business to each individual contact. Highlight capabilities that meet their needs. Know the lingo of the industry or agency.
  • Be able to point to specific projects that are similar to the one you are pursuing and offer to share how your company did that successfully.
  • Register as a potential supplier. This is often done online at corporate websites. Complete the registration, or risk being passed over when the company doesn’t have all of the information it wants when looking at suppliers.
  • Be persistent. It could be a year or two before a company or agency needs what you have, but you want to be the first in mind when that happens.
  • Know what is important to the company or agency. Is it risk-averse and needs to see your level of expertise? Does the company need you to be flexible and able to react quickly to change as well as make improvements?