Why So Many Women Military Veteran Entrepreneurs Are Starting New Businesses
As more women veterans return to civilian life, an increasing number are turning to entrepreneurship. The number of companies owned by women veterans soared nearly 300 percent in just five years, reports the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC). There are now over 383,000 veteran women-owned businesses in the United States.
One reason behind the rise in entrepreneurship is that there are simply more women veterans—over two million as of 2014, according to the NWBC. Thanks to changing government contracting guidelines, it’s also easier for female business owners to get funding.
There are also more entrepreneurship training and mentorship programs that specifically target women vets. One of those is Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE), an initiative of Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).
As national awareness of this group increases, “the resources available to women veterans have grown exponentially even within the last five or six years,” said Kimberly Krula, program manager for V-WISE.
Continuing to Serve
But resources are just part of the story: Women veterans also want to contribute to society in a meaningful way when they return to civilian life, said Krula. “Small business ownership is a way for them to pursue their individual ideas and interests and initiatives,” she said.
Some 27 percent of women veterans are interested in either starting or purchasing a business—a greater number than their male counterparts, said Krula. Many of their business goals include creating employment and giving back to their communities.
Veterans as a whole are also uniquely suited to entrepreneurship, she added, and are twice as likely to succeed as small business owners, according to IVMF. “What draws men and women to service in the military—passion, tenacity leadership and resiliency—are the same traits that predict success in an entrepreneur,” Krula said.
Searching for Flexibility
Entrepreneurship also offers work/life flexibility that appeals to many women veterans, said Krula. After returning from service, many women veterans take on a disproportionate amount of household and family responsibilities, she added.
In addition, about one-third of all veterans who have served since 2001 will transition from military to civilian life with a disability connected to their military service, according to the NWBC, which increases the need for flexible and meaningful work.
Many women veterans are also attracted to the autonomy of small business ownership. “A lot of women had significant responsibilities in the military,” Krula said. “They want to continue to live in a way in which their own choices directly impact results.”
Some veterans also have difficulty transitioning to the corporate workforce, where it can be difficult to find a good match for their military experience and skills. “It’s hard to feel like just another number in the workforce,” she added.
Women veterans face multiple challenges to their success. Veterans with deployments and multiple moves during their military service are often disconnected from local business networks when they return home.
Veterans may also need to learn the nuts and bolts of running a business. That’s why V-WISE provides training, mentorship and networking for women veterans, including connections to resources in their local communities. The program is also open to military spouses and partners.
Unlike going back to school, non-traditional learning and skill-building programs like V-Wise can help veteran entrepreneurs leverage the knowledge and skills they already have rather than forcing them to start over, said Krula. About 2,200 women have participated in the program since 2011, she added, and interest continues to grow.
Networking is an important component of the program, says Krula, because women veterans are often isolated from each other, thanks to their small numbers. “A lot of participants have never met another woman veteran or spouse who has this dream of entrepreneurship, and they feel very alone,” she said. “When they meet other entrepreneurs who have had similar experiences, it’s like a big reunion—even if they haven’t met each other before.”
Women veteran entrepreneurs are also less likely to self-identify as veterans when marketing their businesses, said Krula. Some women don’t believe they can call themselves veterans if they didn’t deploy overseas or serve in combat, which is simply not the case, she added.
Her best tip for women veterans interested in entrepreneurship is to find a mentor. “Mentorship speeds up the learning process,” she said. “It reinforces that you’re not alone and helps you build that network of support you need to succeed.”