When Kaylenne (K.) Brown went through her Transition Assistance Program (TAP) after 13 years in the Marine Corps, she was glad for the opportunity to explore her professional options. She’s a big believer in everything aligning, and she does not shy away from putting in the work. During her class, there must have been something about her overall vibe that signaled to her counselor that a corporate job was not going to be a good fit.
“I don’t know if it was a look on my face or a reaction to what she was saying, but she could tell I didn’t want to work for somebody else, and didn’t want to be behind a desk anymore,” she said.
Brown’s TAP counselor asked if she had ever thought about working for herself. It turns out she did have some entrepreneurial spirit, and her TAP class had just tapped into it. Next, she witnessed the true power of networking. Her counselor helped Brown get in touch with Patra Frame, a human resources advisor for small employers, who told her about the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) and its V-WISE training program, Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, specifically for women military-connected entrepreneurs.
With her DD-214 fresh in-hand, the Marine veteran and Army spouse was on her way from Hampton Roads to New Orleans to join a V-WISE cohort of 200 other entrepreneurial-minded women. She wasn’t exactly sure what shape her business would take, but she was glad to be connected with IVMF’s resources to help inform the next steps of her post-service journey.
“It was the catalyst for everything, this world of entrepreneurship and being around all these other people who are like-minded,” she said. “I had to hold myself accountable, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Today, as the owner of Plant-Based EatzTM, Brown has a master’s degree in nutrition and additional credentials under her belt from the National Gourmet Institute and online food program Rouxbe. She’s also finishing up a Dog Tag fellowship to help fine-tune her focus while she continues to expand her capabilities. She’s also completed other no-cost IVMF training programs including V-WISE, Ignite, Veteran EDGE and EBV at Cornell, which specializes in hospitality and culinary businesses.
One feature that participants like about IVMF programs is the opportunity to connect with others who are invested in their success and motivate them along the way. At V-WISE, Brown met IVMF alumna, veteran and fellow foodie Erinn Roth, who was a few steps farther along in her journey. The two bonded, and Brown found a mentor who continues to give her meaningful encouragement through the twists and turns of owning her business.
“I hold myself accountable, and it’s pressure, and you have nobody to blame but yourself,” she said. “But I can’t do it all myself. You have mentors and resources that help you.”
She earned a master’s degree in nutrition and started Plant-Based EatzTM, offering meal planning and meal prep services for her clients. Word spread fast and demand increased. She created a website and looked more into the IVMF programs, this time enrolling in the EBV Cornell program to focus more on a food business. From there, she expanded into other areas. She started a line of vegan baked goods, PB SweetzTM, and scored a deal with a local restaurant selling rum cakes. Then, she shipped some to well-known vegan personality Tabitha Brown who gave a generous and enthusiastic shout-out to her throngs of online followers.
“I thought: Oh my gosh what have I done,” she said.
That major boost happened right before the pandemic and days before she went to the IVMF Veteran EDGE conference in Dallas, where she reconnected with her trusted circle of mentors and motivators. She got home and quickly built on that success to carry her through the COVID pandemic. People clamored online to get her vegan rum cakes, cinnamon rolls and cookie bars shipped across the country. She also booked her first big event, a fully vegan wedding, which has inspired the next chapter entrepreneurial journey: scalability. With major endorsements in her pocket, she’s thinking of expanding into vegan-based fine dining while holding onto the successes that got her this far.
“I want to create this curated experience of food that tastes good and help people enjoy their meal and not even realize it’s vegan,” she said. “I’m really at a crossroads with what I can do next, and I remember [IVMF mentor] Larry [Broughton] telling me: ‘You’ve got options, and that’s a good thing.’”