Women veterans target of entrepreneur program



Gail Bennison Special to the Business Press

Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps (WVEC), a three-year business growth initiative by Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, will hold its second event this year Nov. 18-19 at Capital One Conference Center in Plano. Count Me In is a nonprofit resource for women entrepreneurs interested in growing their micro-businesses into million dollar enterprises. WVEC, supported by Capital One Financial Corp., is a new business growth initiative for women veteran entrepreneurs or veterans’ spouses/domestic partners whose businesses are at $50,000 to $150,000 in annual revenues. It is designed to help them grow quickly and sustainably to spur local economies and job growth in their communities.

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“The decision to help women business owners who are veterans and spouses or domestic spouses of veterans was easy,” said Nell Merino, founder, president and CEO of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence. “It just makes good business sense. Based on Count Me In’s vast experience in helping thousands of women business owners grow, we wanted to do the same with those who were military-affiliated. “Having their own businesses will allow them to make a choice of owning a business or getting a job as they make their transition back to civilian life. With the training they receive in the military, entrepreneurship seems to be a better solution for many women, and especially those with a military background, to have something of their own and mobile,” Merino said. At the day-and-a-half conference, participants will learn growth strategies from nationally renowned small-business experts and will meet women who have built their ideas into million dollar successes. They will pitch their businesses for a chance to join Count Me In’s Business Accelerator Program, a six-month intensive business education program that is designed to help women grow their businesses significantly within 18-36 months. Up to 100 finalists named at the WVEC event will receive a media packet, which includes a professional photo and news release template that they can use to promote their business, as well as possible mention in national event publicity.

WVEC aims to help women-owned businesses across the country grow to $250,000-plus in revenue with support through the accelerator program. That goal translates into $75 million in new economic activity and 600-900 new jobs, according to the organization. According to a new survey of women business owners who are veterans released by Count Me In and Capital One, 46 percent say that being a business owner has helped them shift to civilian life after military service. Fifty-five percent say it was their leadership in the military that inspired them to start their own business. At the same time, 46 percent report that they do not have business plans in place for the next one to two years, a shortcoming that can affect growth and profitability.

More than 100 women participated in the WVEC conference and competition at the Capital One corporate offices in McLean, Va., on April 25. Sixty presented a two-minute pitch on their businesses. Pitch winners were selected at that event and invited to submit financial documentation and business plans as part of the second round of competition. Twenty-four awardees were chosen based on their demonstrated ability to benefit and grow in Count Me In’s accelerator program.

“Count Me In’s Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps is the reason why I am any good at pitching,” said Kristina Guerrero, a 2002 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Guerrero is participating in the accelerator program. She started her business TurboPUP, after returning home from eight years of service piloting C-130 transport planes during combat deployments in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa. TurboPUP, based in La Pine, Ore., offers a line of grain-free meal bars designed for dog owners who want nutritious, easy-to-travel meals for their pets. “Our first event exceeded our expectations, from the quality of the partnership with Capital One and the caliber of the military-affiliated women business owners,” Merino said. “We are expecting 100 to 150 participants in Plano, around the same number we had in McLean.