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September 2, 2012

Building partnerships: IVMF and the U.S. Business Leadership Network

Building partnerships: IVMF and the U.S. Business Leadership Network

Written by James Schmeling, IVMF Managing Director and Co-founder

Over the past several months I’ve been working to build a partnership with the U.S. Business Leadership Network (USBLN) through my good colleague Jill Houghton, USBLN executive director, and new colleague Patricia Richards, director of USBLN’s Disability Supplier Diversity Program. They’ve built a disabled-business owner certification that includes service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSB), an intensive certification that allows other businesses to count on them to be fully-qualified suppliers. Lots of SDVOSBs need customers, and this is a terrific avenue to gain access to a new marketplace for them, USBLN members and others with robust supplier diversity programs and their supply chain partners.

At the same time, my institute educates veteran entrepreneurs, as does our consortium of Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities universities, comprised of the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, the College of Business at The Florida State University, the Mays School of Business at Texas A&M University, the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, the College of Business at the University of Connecticut, the E. J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University and the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University. At last count there were over 600 graduates of the program, and the majority of these veterans have gone on to start their own small businesses.

Match made in heaven between entrepreneurship education, business certification and businesses that may become supply chain partners to corporate America? I think so, but it still took several months to work through. What would we do? What would the USBLN? How would it benefit our/their stakeholders? What opportunities will it provide to the broad community of service-disabled veterans? Can we provide education and opportunities not only to our alumni, but to others as well? We answered all of these questions, and the next steps include education programs targeted to our alumni, creating opportunities for our veterans to mix with their businesses, advising our veterans through certification programs and more.

These goals are business goals; to create networks of suppliers that can meet the needs of business and industry while promoting and contributing to local and national economies. A side benefit is usually the ability to tout such efforts in corporate social responsibility reports, which also benefit business and industry while creating opportunity for traditionally underrepresented populations.

At the IVMF, we’ve long known the advantages veterans bring to entrepreneurship. Veterans start businesses at twice the rate of non-veterans, and sustain them for longer than their non-veteran counterparts. Veteran status is the number one predictor of small business startup. For wounded warriors, business ownership may provide even more important benefits, including the ability to address career and life changes.1

In addition to the more than 600 EBV graduates from our national consortium, there are another 60 family members of wounded veterans or Gold Star family members who have completed our education programs at Syracuse University and Florida State, and more than 500 women veterans (many with hidden or undisclosed disabilities) who have done the same through our Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) national conferences. These veterans contribute to their local economies by starting and running businesses, hiring employees, and importantly, hiring other wounded veterans. They are already supplying government, business, and industry.

Providing opportunities to become a certified diversity supplier gives another avenue for our vetrepreneurs to reach their markets, and is an important component of our collaboration with the USBLN. Partnering provides improved access to opportunities and decreased barriers to both employment and entrepreneurship for the veteran and service-disabled veteran community. The partnership also creates opportunities for many peer businesses to share lessons learned from robust programs of hiring veterans and buying from veteran suppliers.

My first exposure to supplier diversity came when I wrote, “Disability as Diversity in Fortune 100 Companies” with colleagues at the Law, Health Policy & Disability Center at the University of Iowa in 2005. While conducting research and working with my co-authors, I saw another avenue for traditionally under-represented populations to create opportunities, supplier diversity. When I moved into the veterans’ space and worked with veteran entrepreneurs, it became a natural objective to focus on creating opportunities for them to become suppliers. Importantly, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a program to certify SDVOSB suppliers for VA contracts and other government set asides. The USBLN®’s program addresses similar needs in the private sector. Deciding on the right markets is a function of the entrepreneur’s business goals and objectives (and we address this in our entrepreneurship programs). If our veteran entrepreneurs want to supply private business and industry, this certification program may be an excellent path to pursue.

The IVMF’s focus on veterans and service-disabled veterans, in business ownership and employment, naturally aligns with the goals and objectives of the USBLN in this arena. The institute’s recently published “Guide to Leading Policies, Practices & Resources: Supporting the Employment of Veterans and Military Families” and the National Council on Disabilities’ “Empowerment for Americans with Disabilities: Breaking Barriers to Careers and Full Employment” report, for which I was project director, both form frameworks for engaging business and industry and preparing veterans for employment. The overlap of companies which supported these reports—and which support the IVMF, USBLN, or both—is an indicator that progressive, forward thinking companies do all they can to find and support talent, to advance their businesses and to contribute to a robust entrepreneurial and employment ecosystem.

In addition to the supplier diversity focus, the most immediate, and visible, component in our partnership with the USBLN is the participation of the IVMF in two sessions at the USBLN conference. One session, in the workplace track, focuses on hiring initiatives for wounded warriors. The other, in the supply chain track, focuses on business supplier diversity certification. The USBLN will also focus on career opportunities for wounded warriors during conference proceedings by bringing in speakers from industry with strong programs to hire wounded warriors, in addition to a keynote by Wesley Bush of Northrop Grumman. I’m very excited to participate in both my sessions, and to learn from others.

The USBLN is also organizing a service project to deliver care packages to veterans at Florida Stand Down events. Even while working with business and industry in employment and supplier diversity tracks—while talking about the benefits of hiring veterans and the lived experiences of wounded warriors— they are giving back to the community and supporting those in need. The opportunity to merge disability and veteran work—with support from corporate America, veteran businesses, the USBLN and the IVMF— is exciting! These partnerships, between organizations in and outside of academia, are important parts of academic entrepreneurship. We built on things we both do well to create even more opportunity.

Thank you to our new partners. It is my hope that all we do will be wildly successful and creates further opportunities for business and industry to connect the dots of business success with veteran employees and SDVOSBs as suppliers, participants in the supply chain and as business partners!

And, for our next partners, I can’t wait to talk to you about what we can do together for our communities.

1 Haynie, J.M., & Shepherd, D.A. (2011).Toward a Theory of Discontinuous Career Transition: Investigating Career Transitions Necessitated by Traumatic Life-Events. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96 (3), 501–524. Editor’s selection as ‘Featured Article’.

This Voices entry draws from a column written by Schmeling for “Think Beyond the Label,” published at

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