Written by: James Schmeling
Seth wrote today “Find the others”, hitting on the connection economy, and not waiting for others to organize the people who care. Wow. Perfectly on target for my past weekend, and my past almost four years! You see, I work with veterans and military families. And every year the U.S. military makes about 250,000 new veterans (the number varies up and down from a relatively steady state of 175,000 to 300,000). Along with those veterans come their families – military spouses who built incredible strength and skills either deployed to foreign countries with their family member or remaining behind to keep everything running – their families, their small businesses, their careers – while their family member deployed. So, we add probably half a million veterans and families to our population every year – a tribe if there ever was one!
That’s one group who we focus on – the newest veterans and family members. The ones in transition about to leave service or the ones who have left service and are now focused on their post-service life course. One area of focus is the entrepreneur, the small business owner, the person or family ready to build their own future! And one challenge so many of them have is that they think entrepreneurs are lone wolves, that they can build it themselves. It’s true that their passion may come from within, the drive to build the business, and their identity as a business owner. But it’s not true that they have to do it themselves, that they are alone, that they can’t learn from others. That’s what the connection economy is about after all. The reason there are so many people telling them how to do it, connecting them to others who are similarly minded. Tribes.
With veterans and families the ability to relate to a Tribe is even clearer than for most. They’ve already joined, worked together, served together. They’ve already learned to form and disband teams to accomplish tasks and missions. They’ve learned that some things are interchangeable (the commissary on one base is nearly the same as on the next), and some things aren’t (the lifelong friend you’ve just met when you arrive at the next base isn’t). And, this is important, many veterans still have a need to serve. It’s who they are at their core. And they have an affinity for other veterans and families – they are willing to help their brothers and sisters who have served! And it doesn’t matter whether it’s help in learning or executing on small business development and growth, career opportunities, higher education, or moving into new communities. They want to help others as they’ve been helped.
That’s why platforms like the Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship are so important – nearly 200 women veterans, transitioning women military members, and women spouses of veterans or military members in transition come together to learn from our instructors (many veterans themselves, many business owners, with expertise to share), from each other – and they learn immensely from each other, whether they are life lessons, business lessons, career lessons, or others. They feel a fast and easy familiarity, a bond, and give to each other. They form partnerships, build contracts, go after business, or encourage each other, cheer for each other, and empathize when things are hard while showing that they will get better!
Our team built the platform, and it’s our participants who spread the word. Women veteran entrepreneurs like Kristina Guerrero, Founder and CEO of TurboPup. She shared her story in a blog for us and our entrepreneurship students and with the Washington Post, among others. But she not only shared her story, she encouraged so so many others, including the nearly 200 women in New Orleans for #VWISENOLA, where she took time to come and speak about her experience with VWISE, with the business plan competition she won at #VWISELongBeach, and with her business. She encouraged every other women entrepreneur in the audience to build their businesses, telling them they all have the same strengths she did – that it wasn’t her business but her that Daymond John invested in, and that it could be any one of them in the future. How powerful is that tribe?
How do you find the others in your tribe? How do you give to your tribe? Why do they matter to you? Tell me in the comments.
James Schmeling, J.D., co-founded the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, and was appointed as its first managing director. He currently supervises the Programs mission area, which includes transition, employment, education and training programs.