Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families program is bringing a three-day workshop to Buffalo, which begins today, that develops and encourages women veterans and wives of veterans as small business entrepreneurs.
Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, or V-WISE, serves its participants in three phases. The first part is a 15-week online course. Part two is a three-day training event, such as the one taking place at the Hyatt Regency in Buffalo November 1 through November. The third phase is ongoing mentorship.
"This is our 22nd program. We'll have nearly 150 veterans and military spouses joining us to learn anything and everything about business, and how to start it," said Misty Stutsman, Director of the Small Business Portfolio for Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families, who told WBFO the program is about ten years old.
Some participants, according to Stutsman, will be Western New York-area residents but some are arriving from other parts of the country. Jessica Brown, a disabled veteran, lives in Cleveland but has relatives who formerly lived in Cheektowaga. She runs her own small business, Wood Thingamajigs, which she explained was born "almost by accident."
After leaving active duty, Brown explained, she entered the workforce and began dating a man who, like her, shared a love of handiwork. They agreed that at least one gift they would exchange each Christmas would be created by their own hands and skills. One year, Brown continued, her boyfriend posted an image of one such gift on Facebook to show off to friends.
"One of our friends suggested that we started selling it," she said. "We kind of blew it off like, ha ha that's funny, that's great, whatever. A few months later, that friend came back to us and said 'hey, why aren't you selling them? I'd totally buy them.' So fast forward a couple of weeks, we started the company and started making them."
But Brown recognized she didn't necessarily have the business acumen that would help such a venture gain followers. She learned about V-WISE and enrolled in the program.
"Any chance you get to network is obviously good, especially when you're trying to build a business," Brown said. "Making those connections with other female veterans, it's always good."
Stutsman says the program is also good for women still active in the military, or wives of active military members, who might already be thinking of an idea or simply trying to discover a plan for life when a term of service comes to an end.
"I think being able to craft their own vocation and actually have a job, as they move from location to location to location, does ease that transition for them as they get out," Stutsman said. "There's something that is there."
Brown has subsequently been able to quit her day job to focus on growing her own business. WBFO asked her what advantages a veteran entrepreneur may have over non-veterans.
"We don't know how to give up," she said. "It's just not in our nature, not in our ability, really."