Make the Connection, Reap the Benefits

By: Melissa Bird

 Entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. Add in a pandemic and solitude becomes the name of the game.

But for five military-connected small business owners, their chance meeting at the 2020 Veteran EDGE Conference led to a friendship that helped each other’s businesses to not only survive but thrive during an otherwise desolate situation. And the investment they have in each other’s success has been paramount to their overall outlook on a post-pandemic resurgence.

Mike Etheridge, Eve Baum, Claude Burns, Thom Theriault, and Eric Gates met one another while attending the Veteran EDGE Conference in Dallas in March 2020, just before the country locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not knowing what was coming ahead, they felt an instant connection with one another and had other conference participants wondering if they worked at the same company.

“I thought about not going to EDGE,” said Etheridge, from Florida. “And I can confidently say that my company would not be where it is right now had it not been for EDGE, meeting this group of people, and then our partnership with Tom and Tango Squared.”

“It’s great to have people who are living the entrepreneur life alongside you,” said Baum, who is from Pennsylvania. “I can ask them about packaging or ‘where do I get a UPC code’ and they have the answers or can help point me in the right direction.”

The five entrepreneurs recently joined IVMF’s entrepreneurship team for a Zoom chat to discuss their experiences at Veteran EDGE and what has happened with their business since meeting in March 2020. Regardless of social distancing requirements, Zoom was needed for this conversation because each business owner is living in a different part of the country. Despite their location, they have demonstrated that networks of business supporters, mentors, and colleagues just need to be likeminded people, regardless of where they are from.

“This past year, my company lost 100% of our revenue at one point. As a veteran, there’s no giving up. That’s not how veterans are built,” said Burns, a two-time Vet100* company, who is from the in the San Francisco Bay area. “When you go to Veteran EDGE, you see people just like you; they have had difficult journeys and have kept fighting, kept growing. And then one day, they find that key partnership and unlock the growth in your business that you wouldn’t have imagined.”

*The annual Vet100 list honors the 100 fastest-growing veteran-owned and -operated businesses in the country, as identified by Inc.

Networking is crucial for all business owners. It provides interpersonal connections with clients, mentors, and partners. IVMF’s National Survey of Military Affiliated Entrepreneurs identified that 22% percent of VOBs cite the lack of business mentorship as a top barrier for their business.

“You can have a network, but you need to be prepared to leverage it,” said Theriault, who operates his business in New York.

“I’ve had a number of phone calls with these people to figure out where to go in my business,” said Etheridge. “It’s great to be able to call someone who understands what is going on in business.”

As entrepreneurs know, scaling isn’t always pretty. It’s important to have people in place who can guide you and provide “real talk” advice. Not every business connection needs to be a cheerleader.

“I think all of us can agree that we give it to each other straight,” said Theriault. “We do that because we care about each other and what we’re doing in our businesses, our families, etc. We’re giving each other ideas and course corrections where we need to be course corrected.”

“What we’ve all been doing throughout the course of the year is not only taking advantage of what was in front of us, but we’ve been talking about tomorrow and next year,” said Theriault. “We’ve really been focused on what to do next, how do we grow, how do we take advantage of this momentum we’ve generated.”

“And that momentum happened during a pandemic!” said Gates.

While some of the past year’s adjustments may become part of our new normal, there is an incredible value to in-person connection and these entrepreneurs are reaping the benefits.

The Veteran EDGE Conference is the nation’s premier entrepreneurship training conference for military-connected business owners. This year’s event will be held September 30-October 3 in Dallas, TX. If you’re eager to make the connection with other entrepreneurs who are like-minded and have shared experiences, Veteran EDGE is where you want to be.

Apply today for the Veteran EDGE Conference and grow your community of mentors and supporters.