Kathy Owens: Women veterans should seize their opportunities

March 14, 2020

The Virginian-Pilot

Calling all women veterans: There has never been a better time to become an entrepreneur in Virginia.

For some, the hassles of starting a business can seem more daunting than a night carrier landing in rough seas, but fortunately many nationwide and state programs have been created to assist veterans, and particularly women veterans, navigate and succeed in the world of small business.

Virginia has the highest percentage of women veterans in the United States, more than 107,000 and growing every year. This is why Virginia recognizes the third week of March as “Virginia Women Veterans Week” and organizes the annual Virginia Women Veterans Summit to assist current and transitioning women veterans in connecting with employers, mentors, business leaders and financiers. The summit, hosted by the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and partner agencies, is widely attended, well sponsored and, in 2019, held “pitch opportunities” with cash awards.

DVS assists veterans in connecting to a variety of resources. The Small Business Association, in partnership with the DVS Virginia Transition Assistance Program, offers Boots to Business, an entrepreneurial education and training program for transitioning service members, including National Guard and Reserve. These free classes are held frequently and in numerous locations around the commonwealth.

Need a certification to start your business? Onward to Opportunity has you covered with a free career-training program that provides professional certification to transitioning service members and veterans.

Want to parachute right into ownership of an existing business? VETFRAN offers a safe landing zone by encouraging franchisors to offer discounts and incentives to veterans, and assembling resources, tools and a database of franchising opportunities for veterans.

If the risk of failure and thought of being directly responsible for the welfare of others still gives you the pre-deployment jitters, know that most entrepreneurs find that creating jobs and changing the landscape of a region or industry is precisely what makes owning a business so rewarding.

Let the successes of other veteran business owners and the skills and tenacity you have acquired from your military service put you at ease. You will find, for example, that having been immersed in an environment of military acronyms during your service, you will quickly be able to master new terms such as FICA, BPOL, ROI and ID/IQ, and programs such as 8a and SWaM continue to offer a slight advantage for new businesses to thrive and grow in the state and federal contracting arenas.

I once heard a successful college football coach say, “I look for three things in a player: speed, speed and speed. Everything else in the game can be taught.”

The analogy for women veterans looking to be an entrepreneur is that your success in the military has shown that you are trainable, diligent and enterprising. All the rest can be learned.

As Amelia Earhart once said, “The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune.” There is a frontier of new technology, innovation and services waiting to be explored. Now is the time for you to go win your own fame and fortune.

Cmdr. Kathy P. Owens is a retired U.S. Navy pilot, commercial airline pilot and president of Beach Development Group. She serves on the Virginia Board of Veterans Services, the Virginia War Memorial Foundation board of directors and is vice president of the Central Business District Association of Virginia Beach. Email her at [email protected].