After I left the military, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career. Honestly, at that time, I was so focused on getting married and wanting to have kids that I didn’t give it nearly enough thought. Almost five years later, I was a wife to a husband who was gone for extended training, there were no kids and it was beginning to look like there weren’t going to be any, and I was in a job that I cared about but with an organization that I didn’t think I could support long term. I needed a new plan. I had always liked photography and thought a photography business might be a possible option. The class I’d taken at the local photography museum showed me that I had the ability. What I lacked was business skills. And that’s when I stumbled onto V-WISE.
V-WISE, Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, is a program run by Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) and the Whitman School of Management in conjunction with the Small Business Administration (SBA). Started in 2010, it is one of several entrepreneur programs they have for veterans and their spouses (check back later this week for more details on those). Designed for women veterans and servicemembers who own or are considering starting a business, and expanded to include the spouses/partners of veterans who own a business, V-WISE gives its participants the skills and connections to take their business idea to the next level. It combines a 15 day online class portion followed by a three day conference, where you will interact with members of the IVMF (including Mike Haynie, PhD, former Air Force officer, founder and director of the IVMF, and mastermind behind their entrepreneur programs), leaders in the business industry and 200 fellow V-WISE participants, as well as follow-up mentorship, where you will have access to even more expertise and resources.
The program is broken into two tracks: those who are planning to start a business and those who have one and want to grow it. During the conference, there will be joint sessions around meal times, which include such high level guest speakers as Major General Marcia M. Anderson, Deputy Chief, Army Reserve, and Larry Broughton, a former Green Beret turner President and CEO of Broughton Hospitality. Then participants will break out into sessions based on their track. Sessions include topics such as how to get financing, business planning, economics (pricing products and services, costs, revenues, etc.), marketing, how to leverage technology, how to secure government contracts, business law, intellectual property and other relevant topics. Additionally, there will be several opportunities for one-on-one interaction with members of the SBA, CEOs, former government procurement officers and business school faculty, as well as Q&A sessions with top business mentors. You’ll also be given handouts and business cards galore and a USB with all the presentations on it for future reference.
Sounds like it should you cost a lot, doesn’t it? It should, but it doesn’t. Participants pay a $75 registration fee after they have been accepted to the program and are responsible for the cost of travel to the conference location, any parking fees (if applicable), and one, on-your-own dinner while you are there. V-WISE covers all other costs, including course materials, a nice little goodie bag when you show up, your own hotel room (no sharing) in an incredible hotel (mine had perhaps the best bed I have ever slept on), and all other meals and snacks (and they don’t skimp on the spread – I swear I gained 5 pounds in three days, even though much of the food was very healthy).
Application is simple. Complete the form, upload a copy of your DD-214 (or your spouse’s, if applicable), and tell them why you want to be an entrepreneur. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, meaning first-come, first-served, so apply early. Spots in the November conference in Denver are closed but applications for the January, 2014, conference in Long Beach, CA, are currently open.
I didn’t end up starting my photography business (life took a different turn), but I am grateful for my V-WISE experience and I highly recommend it to any female veterans/servicemember/spouse who runs or is thinking of running her own business. The staff of IVMF were polite, professional, and engaging and being surrounded by so many other veterans who were motivated, got where you came from, and shared a common idea of where you were going was one of the best experiences I’ve had since leaving the military, especially in the professional realm. There was an energy there, a supportive one, that made me feel the way my uniform used to – like I was unstoppable.
For more information on V-WISE, or to apply to the program, go to: http://whitman.syr.edu/vwise/.
© 2013 – 2014, Sarah Maples. All rights reserved.