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The Lucky Ones

Thousands of very lucky Veteran Entrepreneurs descended on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to learn the current “Rules of Engagement” for Veteran Businesses

The National Veteran Small Business Engagement (NVSBE) conference, sponsored by the Veterans Administration, was held in Pittsburgh this year. It showcased the VA’s ever evolving approach to providing every possible resource available to help Veterans capture business and/or learn how to access the relationships that can make things happen for Veterans.

In attendance were Veteran Entrepreneurs from all over the country and from every modern war era, even a WW II Marine who came to work and help hawk products for the next generation of the family business. Purely and simply put, all these Veterans came to do business. And they were surely The Lucky Ones. Why Lucky? Because they got the benefit of face-to-face meetings with hundreds of VA Procurement Officers and other key players in major corporations who really want to business with Veterans. The cohesiveness of the VA approach is improving every year. And their results still bear that out.  Veteran and Service Disabled Veteran businesses working with the VA consistently gain a greater percentage of contracts than all other Federal Agencies every year.

The NVSBE franchising session was led by Cherylynn Sagester, who is the director of Old Dominion University’s Hampton Roads Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC). She aptly guided Veterans through the pluses and minuses of the franchise business model. Cherlynn pointed out the franchising as an industry is still in a positive growth mode per the International Franchise Association (IFA) in their most recent annual tracking. However she also pointed out that franchise fee discounts to Veterans aren’t a panacea and they should beware as many segments of the industry fluctuate in both demand and competition. The Veterans at the session were lucky because they learned how they could directly interact with her or representatives from the VBOC network across the country. A VBOC can help examine franchise opportunities from offices 15 different regions around the country. They are all no nonsense business people. Veterans looking for entitlements need not apply. Other experienced VBOC Directors like Corinna Conley from California and Darcella Craven from Missouri were at NVSBE as well and were quick to share their best practices and strategies that work for Veterans.

The Veteran Institute for Procurement (VIP) had a full complement of its members at NVSBE as well. VIP originally evolved as an elite group of 500 companies collaborating to take their businesses to the next level in Federal contracting. In 2016 they will open their program up to smaller Veteran companies including franchises interested in B2G opportunities. Barbara Ashe who started and now champions VIP recently negotiated a cooperative agreement with the SBA to expand the VIP effort for small businesses. Interested companies should go to: http://www.montgomerycountychamber.com/foundation/veteran-institute-procurement/vip-start.

The VA, through their Office of Small and Disabled Business Utilization (OSDBU), which oversees NVSBE every year, also greatly improved their matching making efforts working with major Corporations such as Boeing, Lockheed and many others. Corporate Diversity Programs have been evolving for Veterans for several years but before a Veteran company might just be referred to a corporate website and feel they were merely were sent into an abyss.  Of course that can and will still happen, but many of the corporate attendees are now much better at communicating and fostering clear paths to contract opportunities. Veterans will still have to jump through the gatekeeping process but VA OSDBU through NVBSE did a good job at creating a climate to create more Corporate relationships to take Veteran businesses to next level.
Pay it forward

Everyone in attendance was indeed very lucky and certainly got their money’s worth so definitely try to go next year. If you couldn’t go this year or can’t for any reason next, just reach out to a VBOC, they will share what they learned. And then you can too.

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