Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship

For Dr. Cheryl Ford, V-WISE is where preparation meets opportunity

Most veterans understand that preparing to separate from the military is more like a long-term process than a single event. Plans should start a few years out. Cheryl Ford, DrPH started writing down ideas for her future company’s name 10 years before heading into her military retirement. She had at least 70 names collected as she got closer to her retirement date, and none of them touched her heart. She was considering the possibilities of starting her own business, working as a federal employee, or becoming a consultant. If she couldn’t pick a name that means something to her, she’d have to take entrepreneurship off the table. Dr. Cheryl Ford at Vwise

One day before going to sleep, Ford picked up a piece of paper and added ATHOS to her list. When she woke up, everything clicked, and her path was set. She looked at the letters and saw, “At The Helm Of Success.” She looked up what “athos” means and learned it’s a mountain where monks go to pray, and women are not allowed. Ford thought she’ll be the first woman to go to that mountain. She’d found the name that spoke to her heart. Although the domain was purchased just two weeks earlier, Ford was delighted to learn ATHOS1 was available and made it hers. It turns out that’s even better because the 1 completes the vision: “At the helm of success, one must pay it forward.”

“I’ve had a great career, and I know I can pay it forward with less restraints by being in charge of my own vision,” she said.

Ford’s distinguished career in public health service has included roles as a health services officer, enterprise architect, White House fellow, and more. She knows how to synthesize high-level information and make it actionable and how to direct emergency response and managed care operations. She’s had three presidential initiatives under her watch and has the honor of being the first White House fellow to receive a meritorious service award from the Department of Defense.

Knowing the experience and capabilities she brings to the table, Ford initially approached entrepreneurship programs with some healthy skepticism.

“I can’t get stunned with a bad connection and blow my opportunities,” she said. “I didn’t want to be sold anything.”

Then, a woman she met at a networking event assumed she must have gone to V-WISE. Another woman in the same circle had attended V-WISE and spoke highly of it. The experience prompted Ford to investigate.

“When I first looked up the IVMF, I didn’t even look at the program selection. I had to find out about what they were first,” she said. “The mission of Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) and focus on women was near and dear to my heart, and the way they described the program, I knew it was worth the investment.”

Ford attended V-WISE as part of the Nashville cohort this spring and she’s glad she did. She especially cites the speakers, who didn’t take for granted the foundation of knowledge the participants needed. What’s more, Ford was impressed to find unprecedented access to all those speakers. She came prepared with questions she wanted to ask and found the access she needed to get specific answers to help her with what comes next. For example, she got answers about seeking her SBA 8A designation and getting SBA certified as a woman-owned business. She walked away from V-WISE with clarity, homework, and actionable knowledge to go and build from.

“I believed what they promised, and they delivered,” she said. “I looked, listened, and felt. It did not disappoint. It’s where preparation meets opportunity.”

Co-Founded Premier Enterprise Solutions, LLC

Jacqueline “Jackie” Lopez started her career as an Officer in the U.S. Air Force during the early 1980s as a Ballistic Military Warning System Programmer with the Strategic Air Command (SAC). Jackie went on to be responsible for the management of the Command Center Processing and Display System Replacement (CCPDS-R) followed by a tour in the Pentagon as Branch Chief for the Air Force Combat Operations network operations center. Jackie Lopez

After her military career, Jackie served as the Director of Defense Department programs at the Federal Systems and Integration Center (FEDSIM), with the U.S. General Services Administration. Upon leaving the Government for the private sector, she served as Director of Business Development and, later, President, of a small business.

In 2012, Jackie co-founded Premier Enterprise Solutions, LLC, alongside her partner and husband, Michael R. Lopez. Premier has a stellar reputation for its innovative Information Technology Solutions and Program Management support services. Premier’s proficiency in the IT industry enables their clients to build and deploy best value assets as well as optimize workforce productivity in various Federal sectors in cyber security, cloud migration, software development, enterprise operations and program management. Clients include Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Jackie attributes her success to mentors, amazing employees, and programs such as the IVMF’s V-WISE program. “I was fortunate to attend V-WISE one year into starting my business,” said Jackie. “V-WISE not only provided excellent business information and tools for me, but it also provided much needed encouragement through the accomplished and very authentic keynote speakers. I left V-WISE armed with information and inspired to move in the direction of my dreams.”

Premier has experienced significant growth. From 2016 to 2020, company revenues grew significantly earning Premier a ranking on the 2020 and 2021 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in the nation. Additionally, Premier was selected for the 2020 Washington Technology Fast 50 as one of the fastest growing tech companies and was named a 2021 Vet100 honoree. In 2021, Jackie was named one of the “Top 100 Women in Maryland” by the Maryland Daily Record.

After almost 30 years in the public and private sectors, Jackie fulfilled a lifelong dream of starting a business when she opened Premier. “It was not until after I experienced both the best and the worst of public and private sector business transactional relationships that I realized there must be a better way to collaborate, deliver value and be a premier employer and business partner,” said Jackie. “I envisioned launching a business that would change this paradigm in which collaboration and delivering value with every engagement would be the new business model.”

Jackie has a strong commitment to give back to other women and women veterans. She mentors, participates in educational and training events and teaches workshops which provide resources for women and veterans to grow and succeed professionally and as entrepreneurs. She is particularly passionate about spreading awareness about STEM education and representation in Information Technology. As such, Jackie participated on STEM panels for local colleges, universities, and organizations such as Prince George’s Community College, Stevenson University, and the Women’s Veteran Interactive. Additionally, she is a frequent featured panelist and guest speaker for initiatives and events for women and veteran entrepreneurs, as well as for business leaders.

“Ghandi said to ‘be the change you wish to see in the world,’ and I can honestly say that I have endeavored to build a company that reflects the changes that I want to see and the values that are most important to me,” said Jackie. “Each day brings the satisfaction of grooming young professional talent, paying top salaries to well-qualified individuals, and accomplishing amazing things for our clients.”

Bread and Butter Kitchen

Monica Alvarado, military veteran, V-WISE graduate, Veteran EDGE and EBV accelerate participant.

Air Force Veteran Monica Alvarado left the military and entered the corporate world after serving for six years as an intelligence analyst. She enlisted out of high school. Alvarado credits the military with instilling the work ethic, the ability to focus, and the ability to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds. “A lot of military folks come out with this innate ability to really focus on issues and be able to just charge forward and resolve them without getting bogged down in the details,” she says.


Toward the end of her enlistment, she was assigned to Fort Meade in Maryland and decided it was a great place to raise a family. After getting out in 1997, she worked as a government contractor and eventually moved into corporate IT.

Though the role she was in was instantly aligned with the skills she learned in the Air Force, she still had dreams of starting her own business. She found IVMF and attended their free training program V-WISE – Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship — where she learned the basics of running a business in a program that caters solely to women veterans and military spouses. At V-WISE she realized she could branch into any other industry in which she was interested, the restaurant industry. She later attended EBV Accelerate, an advanced training program for established businesses, and she loved how focused that intensive program was on her individual business idea. Just before the onset of the global health crisis, she attended Veteran EDGE, a four-day conference bringing business owners together with companies and resources that want to work with them. There she was paired in networking sessions with other people also interested in the restaurant industry.

Her business, Bread and Butter Kitchen, opened in 2016. Despite the global pandemic, her business has endured. She helped develop an idea with one of her customers: pay struggling restaurants to make food for families struggling with food scarcity in the pandemic. The program, Feed Anne Arundel, supports struggling businesses, feeds hungry people, and keeps restaurant employees working. She credits the skills she learned in IVMF programs that allowed her pivot while serving her community. “All these different training programs emphasize getting to know your community building relationships, because you never know when they’re going to come in handy.”

Alvarado recently spoke to CBS Radio’s Eye on Veterans and described how “Feed Anne Arundel” is feeding those in need while saving restaurants in Annapolis, MD. And her experience transitioning from the corporate world with support from IVMF.

Military Apparel Company

Eve Baum, military spouse, V-WISE graduate, Veteran EDGE participant

Eve Baum started sewing and creating at the age of 5, eventually turning a passion she shared with her grandmother into an illustrious career. The renowned, award-winning French fashion designer moved to the U.S. to pursue the “American Dream” and eventually crossed paths with a U.S. Army officer who asked her to convert old military uniforms into new accessories as a gift to his mother and sister.

Eve Baum sowing

Eve utilized the fabric, patches, and buttons of the outdated uniform to create beautiful handbags and change purses. The response was incredible, and word quickly spread of Eve’s beautiful handiwork. And that is when Military Apparel Company was born.

What started as a kind gesture grew into an exciting passion project for Eve. The Military Apparel Company website describes their products as “creations that serve as a personal, constant reminder of loved ones that have just returned, are presently serving, or have sacrificed their lives defending our country.”

But not someone to miss out on a keeping the American Dream alive, Eve attended IVMF’s V-WISE program to provide her with the education and resources to help her business grow and thrive. As her business progressed, Eve met Sgt. Jeremy Baum, helping to complete her definition of the American Dream.

Eve attended Veteran EDGE in 2020 to support her growing needs as a thriving business owner. At EDGE, Eve met her now-business partner Thomas Theriault, Navy veteran and founder of marketing firm TangoSquared. “We revamped my brand just in time to work together in tandem during the early stages of the pandemic and became one of the first companies to offer Made in USA masks,” Eve told the IVMF team. “Thomas and his team worked behind the scenes while my team conquered the home front. Being at the perfect place at the perfect time while working very hard and long hours, made it possible for us to say, we lived the American Dream!”