At Clinton Global Initiative America, A Big Bet On Women Veterans Turned Entrepreneurs

“In the military, you’re taught from the get-go to speak up," says Kristina Guerrero, a 2002 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, and the founder of the canine meal bar company TurboPUP. "If you have something to say, you’d better say it, because people’s lives are at stake."

The majority of women business owners who are veterans say their leadership experience in the military inspired them to become small business owners.

That's according to a survey of 800 women veteran business owners conducted by Capital One Financial Corporation and Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence. Count Me In is the leading national nonprofit provider of resources for women to grow their micro businesses into million dollar enterprises. Last year, at Clinton Global Initiative America, Capital One committed more than $800,000 over three years to launch a new business training program, in partnership with Count Me In, designed for small businesses owned by women veterans. The program is called Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps (WVEC). This week, at CGI America 2013, Capital One makes its WVEC progress report to President Clinton.

The women surveyed said their military service gave them a number of advantages as business owners, including organizational skills, the ability to adapt quickly to changing environments, and specific skills and training, such as technology, and project management and procurement, according to the WVEC survey. Sixty-two percent of women veteran business owners also say that their military experience makes them more comfortable taking calculated risks in their businesses.

“Women with military experience have focus and discipline,” said Nell Merlino, Founder and President of Count Me In. “It’s important to have a creative idea, but that’s only one part of being a successful entrepreneur.” Merlino pointed out that attention to detail and compliance when things are asked for were particularly evident after the two-day pitch competition held in April at Capital One’s headquarters in McLean, Virginia. “Every single one of the 24 women who was invited to follow up by submitting financial information and business plans did so. That is the big difference between military veterans and civilians, and that disciplined follow up bodes well for their success in business,” said Merlino.

“In the military, we all own our responsibilities and how our actions affect the team. When you’re creating a business, that’s critical,” explained Kristina Guerrero, a 2002 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. Guerrero started her business, TurboPUP, after returning home from eight years of service piloting C-130 transport planes—including air medical evacuations under fire—during combat deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Horn of Africa. TurboPUP offers a line of grain-free meal bars (like “energy bars” for dogs) designed for dog owners who want nutritious, easy-for-travel meal options for their pets. Guerrero is convinced that the military prepares people well for entrepreneurship. “In the service, we’re taught to think about the goal, and how to make it happen. Execute quickly and well. And think about the team.” Guerrero volunteered her thoughts about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. “In the military, you’re taught from the get-go to speak up. There’s no ‘table.’ If you have something to say, you’d better say it, because people’s lives are at stake. There’s no time to think, ‘Well, I’m a female.’ I was a pilot and my team was a C-130 crew. It was everyone’s duty to speak up, or the safety of the team was at stake. If someone did not speak up, we might refer to them as ‘sandbaggers.’”

In spite of being well prepared to lead, women veterans report that they face challenges in achieving their entrepreneurial goals and want to learn more about growing their businesses. That's why WVEC was designed to help by providing coaching, training, and community in the business accelerator program. Guerrero was effusive about WVEC, which she was accepted into last April. “You are part of this incredibly talented group of women, in a program where their only interest is ensuring that you succeed. The camaraderie alone is very powerful. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to be part of this.”

Ruth Christopherson, Navy Captain (Ret), founder of StratLynx

The businesses run by WVEC program participants range from cybersecurity and technology firms established by women who had top secret security clearance, to a company called Major Mom, http://www.majormom.biz/Home.html a home organizing business by a veteran who had moved seventeen times with her four children during eighteen years of military service. Ruth Christopherson, Navy Captain (ret.), is the founder of StratLynx, which provides strategic consulting services, specializing in end-to-end logistics and business processes impacting Total Life-Cycle Cost and Supply Chain efficiency and effectiveness



President Clinton with Daniel Delehanty of Capital One at Clinton Global America


What’s in it for Capital One to support WVEC? “Women veterans have impressive skill sets, discipline, and a work ethic. We want to help unlock the growth potential of their companies, because healthy businesses and healthy communities go hand in hand,” said Daniel Delehanty, a Vice President with Capital One. "WVEC is good for the women veterans, good for the community, and good for the company."

“We have an opportunity to draw on the experience, training, innovation, and creativity that these women have derived from their military experience,” said Merlino. If your company would like to become involved, or if you are a woman veteran, Merlino invites you to contact her here.

[Image: Flickr user Chrisswann26]

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