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‘Vetrepreneurship’ program brings women back to basics

Mon, Jul 14, 2014

Photo: DVIDSHUB Flickr. Modifications: text on gun was erased.

Photo: DVIDSHUB Flickr. Modifications: text on gun was erased.

Women veterans are gaining the resources to pursue their own objectives thanks to the Women’s Business Development Center’s (WBDC) “Back to Basics: Building Your Business Boot Camp,” (B2B), which just graduated its first class.

The WBDC’s Women’s Vetrepreneurship program was established last year in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA). A partnership with The PrivateBank, the B2B boot camp strictly for veterans is a first for the WBDC, said Nicole Mandeville, WBDC associate director of entrepreneurial programs and director of the Women Vetrepreneurship Program.

Mandeville is a Desert Storm veteran, a former banker at BMO Harris, JPMorgan Chase &Co. and a loan officer at IFF, as well as the primary instructor for the free, 16-week B2B class, whose objective is completion of a written business plan. The curriculum supports the women in taking the business concept from idea to action through sessions in entrepreneurship, mentorship, the nuts and bolts of a business plan, legal structure, marketing, key financial concepts and tips from other successful veteran entrepreneurs. Participants also receive a minimum of three coaching sessions.

The B2B class fills an economic need because unemployment is still high, and women veterans have a more difficult time transitioning back to their civilian life than their male counterparts, Mandeville said.

“The challenge is that women as a whole shoulder different burdens than men, who are not the primary care- givers for children or aging parents. The need also arises when statistics show women who served in the military are more often unemployed than their male counterparts. They have an increased risk of homelessness – of sleeping on a family member’s couch – and if they are married, they have an increased risk of ending their marriage than men, an increased risk of abuse.”

When women veterans come home, “We hit the ground running,” said a participant in the B2B boot camp during its next-to-last session. “Everybody has their little bird mouth open and we have to start feeding them. It’s like Mom’s swooping around and everybody is in the nest feeding. We don’t get a chance to decompress.”

Nicole Mandeville

Nicole Mandeville

Between children, marriage, a career and aging parents, the woman veteran can be so busy multitasking that “life gets in the way” and 20 years go by before she has a chance to deal with the changes in herself since her deployment, Mandeville said. For example, she went to the first Persian Gulf war at age 20 and returned to find that what had once been important to her was no longer so. Her dad, also a former military man, just told her “ ‘to suck it up and soldier on.’

“I got my degree and continued on my path to be a banker,” she said. “There was somebody pushing me but everybody doesn’t have somebody pushing them.” Women veterans may also be ready to leave 9-to-5 jobs so they can live their lives on their own terms. Entrepreneurship can offer them a pathway to economic security, independence and empowerment, Mandeville said in prepared material.

Simultaneously, the skills women learned in the military – flexibility, discipline, fortitude, seeing things through to the end — can serve them well as entrepreneurs, she said. The B2B curriculum builds on these strengths. And if the participants begin to feel overwhelmed, the curriculum recalls basic training with reminders to “dig deep.” There’s also empathy, however; classmates who say they have not slept well since their return from the warzone may learn they are not alone.

During the next-to-last class, the women rehearsed elevator speeches on their business plan for presentation the next week to possible funders. The PrivateBank will operate a microloan fund specifically for B2B graduates: up to $10,000 for startups and $25,000 for qualifying existing businesses.

The women had been encouraged to fill niches in their community, so among the business ideas were a concierge service and a home for people with disabilities exiting state institutions.

The would-be concierge had not found a similar service in the south suburbs although she said a Chicago business charged up to $50 an hour for picking up cleaning, laundry or medicines. She saw herself catering to mid- and high-level executives, starting out solo from her home but employing three people at a brick-and-mortar site within a year.

Mandeville counseled her to bill monthly, at a level that she could sustain once she built word of mouth. For perhaps a $200 retainer, customers could obtain five services monthly, including “uh-oh moments” like “I completely forgot it’s my wedding anniversary and I need you to pick up a gift,” Mandeville said. She also encouraged the woman to develop partnerships with other businesses so that she could cluster services such as laundry. Mandeville also had names of industry leaders that provide services to people with disabilities to mentor the woman who wanted to open a home for people exiting state institutions.

Love Moore

Love Moore

Marine Corps veteran Love Moore was using her military connections and two degrees obtained since she went into the service to revive her nonprofit 501(c)(3), Teen Nation, Inc. Besides education in arts, social services and acts of living for youth age 12-22, Moore told the class that the mission of her agency is to give youth a chance to voice concerns and to share opportunities with each other. Anti-violence is the issue most important to them, and Moore said she has had an opportunity to meet Mayor Rahm Emanuel and to participate in a press conference.

A prominent Chicago Marine Corps veteran gave Moore a meeting space and facilities for producing a weekly radio show and for television production. She also has T-shirts and other Teen Nation gear imprinted with its pledge that promises in part, “to be all I can be, a leader, educated, safe and drug-free, financially secure to invest in my community…”

Moore joined the Marines after 21⁄2 years at Southern Illinois University because she didn’t want to take out loans. She served as a data entry clerk from 1985 to 1995 in Okinawa, Japan, North Carolina and Virginia and received both a bachelor’s degree in radio/TV and a master’s degree in psychology while in the service.

She said the military taught her discipline, teamwork and endurance: “you can’t quit in the middle of the battle, you have to see things through to the end.” Similarly, she said the B2B pro- gram was helpful “because it has surrounded me with women of like mind, women who have the dream, passion and desire to start their own businesses. It is teaching me to have more structure, to have better results than I did last time,” 14 years ago.

Lisa Bryant served in the Army from December 1989 to July 1992. Her first job was inventory documentation specialist, moving and tracking barcoded equipment from Saudi Arabia to the front lines. In peacetime she transitioned to helping service personnel determine what training they should take to further their careers.

Lisa Bryant

Lisa Bryant

Bryant told the B2B class that her specialty for the last 20 years has been helping clients – corporations, churches, school districts – to tap into the “TAGS,” or Talent, Abilities, Gifts and Skill sets” that may be already inside them. She has hosted training events at hotels, purchased the domain name for her website, finished writing one of her books for publication and revamped her social media profile.
The B2B class had been helpful, she said later, “because it has provided a lot of resources we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to tap into because 1) we didn’t know about them and 2) because The PrivateBank has partnered with the WBCD to put aside funds specifically for us. All we have to do is our due diligence and do our part.”
Bryant said she appreciated the lecture by a lawyer on the differences between a partnership and a limited liability company (LLC) and by the bank specialist who told about cash flow documents and the difference between looking for a loan or line of credit.

None of the women mentioned service-connected woes such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, one veteran said that lower back pain first suffered in the military led her to acupuncture and Oriental medicine that would become the core of her business.

Fatimah K. Muhammad, who intends to start an ethnic restaurant with the help of a native-born family member, said that her only issue since her return from Iraq and Afghanistan is that people assume she served in the background because she is a woman. Muhammad described how a young man saw her wearing an Army cap and asked if it belonged to her son, never thinking that it could be hers.

Fatimah K. Muhammad

Fatimah K. Muhammad

As a civil affairs specialist, “My job was to be out and about,” she said. The position deals directly with civilians in the host nation to tell them about impending battles and to mitigate interruptions to their lives. Civil affairs specialists also help rebuild nations. Along with members of the State Department, Muhammad was the noncommissioned officer in charge of a course on beekeeping and honey production, a business the students – primarily widows– could bring back to their Iraqi communities. At graduation they received five hives with bees, equipment to harvest the honey and protective masks and gloves.

Muhammad said the immediacy of working in a war zone prepared her for owning a restaurant, “because people want their food.” She has also funded a recipe tasting and through a WBDC business conference, she met a well-known restaurateur who let her get an overview of the business through a stint as hostess.

Besides the entrepreneurial training and assistance from the WBDC, the Illinois Dept. of Veterans Affairs facilitates the Women Vetrepreneurship program through social networking and an affinity group.


For more information on the B2B program, please call (312) 853-3477 or visit http://www.wbdc.org/StartUps/WomenVetrepreneurshipProgram.aspx

Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief


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