Success Story Saturday

Tipping Point Solutions

Rick Schmidt

At 15 years into his career as a Sailor in the U.S. Navy, Rick Schmidt started to ponder whether he was going to be a 30-year career Sailor or retire at 20 years to pursue other opportunities. The Navy provided Rick with long-term career opportunities to obtain both bachelor and master’s degrees, and also to transition from enlisted to officer ranks, neither of which were accomplishments he initially viewed as available for himself. In Rick’s words, “My experience in the Navy gave me more than I could have imagined as an 18-year old recruit and I attribute my successes in business to the lessons learned throughout my military career.”

Rick has been drawn to technology from a young age when his grandfather recognized Rick’s interest in computers in the 1980s and bought him his first computer. Not naturally driven by traditional education, Rick’s passion for computers gave him the confidence academically and an awareness that there were things out there where he could excel intellectually. This time in his life became a turning point and translated well into his career as a Navy cryptologist and his time in business.

Despite a Navy career that Rick values with high regard, he felt he wanted to make an impact on his own terms. “I wanted to forge my way ahead doing what I am passionate about,” said Rick in a recent interview with the IVMF team. He was drawn to entrepreneurship, strongly relating to tech companies that oftentimes redefine who we are as a people or society and the impact they create in the way we exist.

While preparing to separate from the Navy at 20 years, Rick started taking night classes to figure out how to be a business owner and was fortunate to join a start-up led by a former Navy colleague, which provided him with critical entrepreneurship experience as Chief Technology Officer without the personal risk of taking on a solo venture. This experience helped prepare him for his next chapter when he decided to break out on his own and in March 2011, forming Tipping Point Solutions.

Today, the company is an award-winning multimedia eLearning company, specializing in designing and developing engaging interactive training solutions. Its training products are designed to support multiple modes of delivery, including seasoned instructors in the classroom, novice facilitators who desire to educate his/her workforce, and individual self-paced instruction.

When Rick started the business, he didn’t want to be a Fortune 500 company or create a “get rich quick” scheme. He created consistent, sustainable growth through a strong value proposition and fostered a solid reputation with clients. “[I] brought in people who want to come to work, want to do the work, and want to serve our clients,” Rick said.

He often asks himself if the company is scalable and sustainable, does it have intellectual property, does it have processes that are unique to the industry?

“We are still on a path of growth after 10 years and that’s a credit to our business model, what we’ve done and how we’ve done it,” Rick said. “I know what I don’t do right, and I wake up every so often wondering how much more I could be doing to get the company to where it needs to be at this stage and this size. How much more do I need to delegate? How do we take the company from what we once were to where we want to be? I felt confident when opening Tipping Point Solutions, and I look back on situations when I made the right choice to determine if my instincts served me well.”

As a member of the Sault tribe of Chippewa Indians, in addition to his military service, Rick earned his Native American Disadvantaged 8(a) and Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business (SDVOSB) designations from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Always planning for the future of the business, Rick cultivated relationships with fellow tribal members back in his home state of Michigan a few years ago, envisioning the art of possibility for a mentor/protege relationship with the Sault tribe. Motivated by wanting to make a difference, he was able to advise them about what they needed to do to become more sovereign and independent.

“It’s a birthright,” Rick said. “I wouldn’t be in this position if I wasn’t affiliated with my tribe. Sometimes the stars align, and baby steps lead you to the place you never thought you would arrive at. Our relationship is founded on a lot more than the pursuit of making money.”

Rick’s joint venture with the Sault tribe of Chippewa Indians, Nation Point, has already generated economic development for the northern Michigan area. Tipping Point Solutions was named to its fourth consecutive Inc. 5000 list in 2021 and is a two-time (soon to be three-time) Vet100 honoree.

Cyber Security Specialist at LinQuest

Wesley BillWesley Bill graduated from Fort Bragg’s Onward to Opportunity program with a CISSP certificate and now is a Cyber Security Specialist at LinQuest. 

Wesley bill writes:
I served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army for nearly a decade before I separated from active duty in July 2020. As I went through the separation process (SFL-TAP), I realized that most of the skills I attained as an infantryman did not translate into a field of work I was interested in as a civilian.

I made the decision to be a cybersecurity specialist and began networking. After earning a couple baseline IT certifications and finding a cybersecurity job, a friend of mine mentioned IVMF’s Onward to Opportunity (O2O) program to me. I attended a briefing and selected the CISSP learning pathway. The CISSP is a highly sought-after certification in the cybersecurity industry.

When my cohort began, I was unable to do Onward to Your Career (the introductory course of the O2O program). However, I began studying the material. After many tries at the practice exams, I qualified to take the actual exam ($749 value for free!) and earned my CISSP in April 2021.

Within a week, my company gave me a merit pay increase because of the certification. A few months later, I am now being promoted, which I am sure the certification helped me attain.

The work was hard. The exam was difficult. But I am grateful to IVMF and Alicia Mock, my cohort advisor, for giving me the opportunity to earn this certification.

Mia Garcia

Mia GarciaThrough her work at the Texas Veterans Network at Combined Arms (an IVMF partner), Mia Garcia is making a positive impact on veterans reintegrating back into their communities. Recently, in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, the IVMF asked Mia some questions below and here are her responses!

How does Combined Arms work with providers and the community to help our veterans and military families? Any specific requests that occur more than others?

Combined Arms (CAX) is a disruptive backbone organization on a mission to accelerate the impact of veterans and military families, while fundamentally redesigning the military transition process through innovation and collaboration. We streamline the connection between veterans and military-connected individuals and the organizations that serve them, helping our clients not only find needed resources but also connect directly with service providers faster. Combined Arms is now serving 194 counties across the state of Texas via the Texas Veterans Network. Our network of 170+ best-in-class organizations (43 of which are national) offer more than 720 unique resources to veterans and their families. Our top requested resources in 2021 have been employment, financial assistance, VA benefits assistance, mental health, and social connectivity. Our top requested organizations in 2021 are Wounded Warrior Project, NextOp, Mission United North Texas, Texas Veterans Commission, and the Veteran Wellness Alliance.

In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, what does it mean to you to work in a Hispanic community? Are there any special events, recognitions, etc.?

Combined Arms has regular programming focused on engaging veterans in Hispanic communities to ensure they are connected to the resources they need to thrive. For the work that we’ve done in the veteran community, in 2020, I was a finalist for the Houston Texans Campeón de la Comunidad Award which honors leaders in the Latino community who are making a positive impact through service and dedication.

Read the full interview!

YÜJ Granola

Massiel Villanueva is the CEO and Founder of YÜJ Granola – a granola company that is vegan, gluten-free, lowMassiel Villanueva and her brother Fernando glycemic, and soy-free. They offer healthy but delicious alternatives to unhealthy snacks in forms of bars, bites, and cereal granola. Additionally, Massiel says they call it “enlightened granola” because proceeds from their sales go back to select nonprofits. She proudly runs the business with her brother, Fernando.

Being a military spouse, Massiel had been shifting careers and decided to become a yoga instructor. Because of this, she had to adjust her diet away from gluten, soy, sugars, caffeine, alcohol, or animal products.

“Once I started the diet, there was a noticeable gap in healthy foods with those specifications … I decided to create a product that matched my specific needs.” That is when YÜJ Granola was born, out of necessity to find a healthy but delicious snack. “It’s a product line that has everything a busy family needs to keep their kids healthy,” she added.

Each year, between September 15 to October 15 Hispanic Heritage is celebrated. Massiel grew up in the Dominican Republic and moved to the U.S. to attend college. She said it was a challenge to learn a new language and culture and realized it would take a lot of work to adapt. “After looking back on my introductory years to American culture, I am glad some of those challenges were there, as it created resiliency and the ability to adapt,” she said. “I am proud of where I came from because it taught me the value of community and service to others.”

Now, Massiel lives in Central Florida and is grateful for the abundance of support within the Hispanic community. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, YÜJ Granola has had great experiences collaborating with Hispanic and minority business owners. The company has also participated in business-building events and community projects that serve the needs in the community. Recently, they were the winners of a contest led by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Tampa Bay. You can learn about their community work and news here:

Many have doubts about starting a business venture, but Massiel encourages any military spouse to “just do it” as there are a lot of resources and tools available to help. “As a military spouse, you learn how to adapt and become resilient to life challenges – especially while raising three beautiful children. Apply that type of resiliency and ability to adapt when first starting a company,” she said.

Massiel recommends IVMF to any veteran or military spouse considering pursuing entrepreneurship. “IVMF helped us in many ways — exposure, community outreach, support, and more,” she said. “We were featured at their last Veteran EDGE event, and they gave us the opportunity to expand our brand to different demographics by offering resources for expansion.”

YÜJ Granola can be found online and on Facebook and Instagram.


Erika MoreiraErika Moreira had a bachelor’s degree in event planning and had been working at nonprofits but was interested in a career change to human resources. Unsure where to begin the career transition, she reached out to IVMF’s Onward to Opportunity program – a no-cost option to her as she is a qualified military spouse. During the classes, she was going through challenging times such as her husband retiring from the U.S. Marine Corps after 20 years, selling their home and moving to another state, and her elderly mother-in-law moving in. “It was stressful to say the least, but IVMF worked with me, and I was not only able to get my aPHR certification to get started in human resources, but I was scouted by a recruiter (a USMC veteran) and was given the job within three weeks of moving to Dallas.”

Erika took her final test in June 2021 and is now the onsite recruiting coordinator for IntelliSource. According to their website, IntelliSource is “an outsourcing company with a uniquely personal approach to our customers’ operations and workforce challenges.” Erika says it’s been such a great experience working in human resources. She now plans to get her SPHR certification.

It’s often said what service members and their family members experience during their military service prepares them for civilian life. “The military prepared me with resiliency and to know there is always more than one way to do things when you are trying to figure out an answer,” Erika said.

Networking is essential when you exit the military. “Network and keep in contact with people,” Erika said. “I was given my IVMF certification by veterans, I was offered a job by a veteran, and am now closing on a home in Dallas made up of a realty group of veterans. You will need to transition to civilian life, but don’t forget where you came from and make sure to pay that forward.”

J. Lee's Gourmet BBQ Sauce

James Lee

James Lee

Charles Chuck Holden

Chuck Holden

James Lee, III served 12 years in the U.S. Army, working at various duty stations both stateside and overseasIn 1999, while at Fort Carson, Colorado, James started enhancing his father’s BBQ sauce recipe. In the following years, he continued to perfect the quality of the sauce and started product development and focus group testing during different assignments while on active duty.  James made his gourmet BBQ sauce available at various social events and created sampling opportunities during domestic and international travel, including countries such as Korea, Germany, Hungary, and more. This sampling strategy resulted in invaluable consumer insights across numerous demographic areas and increased demand. James knows his military career is a critical factor in his success as the founder of J. Lee’s Gourmet BBQ Sauce.

Charles “Chuck” Holden retired from U.S. Army in 2001 as a Lieutenant Colonel, serving 26 years in both Asian and European theaters of operations. During an assignment as Professor of Military Science at Southern University in 1983, he obtained his master’s degree in mass communications. In his post-military career, Chuck worked for General Dynamics for 13 years, retiring in 2014. Following his second career retirement, Chuck took a few years to reflect on his experiences and to figure out how best to give back to help others.

Chuck’s journey with J. Lee’s Gourmet BBQ Sauce began in 2018 when he met James Lee III during a visit to Biloxi, MS and tried his BBQ sauce at a social gathering. Following a long conversation, it was evident the soldiers shared the same outlook on life, passion for cooking and good food, and doing good for others. Chuck immediately realized his educational background in business and accounting could be an asset to the company. James asked Chuck to join the Sauce Team as President of Operations, and Chuck agreed.Charles “Chuck” Holden retired from U.S. Army in 2001 as a Lieutenant Colonel, serving 26 years in both Asian and European theaters of operations. During an assignment as Professor of Military Science at Southern University in 1983, he obtained his master’s degree in mass communications. In his post-military career, Chuck worked for General Dynamics for 13 years, retiring in 2014. Following his second career retirement, Chuck took a few years to reflect on his experiences and to figure out how best to give back to help others.

Read Their Full Story


Anthony CosbyRetired Navy Lt. Commander Anthony Cosby knows all about chasing purpose. He just never expected to find it in socks.

For Cosby, joining the Navy was a way to see the world. “It took me to Charleston and eventually to an opportunity to earn my officer’s commission,” he said.  After leaving the Naval Academy, Cosby was stationed in Texas as a recruiter. It was a unique challenge for the self-described introvert. He became one of the top Navy recruiters in the nation.

It wasn’t all good for Cosby, though. A swimming accident caused him to break his neck in eight places. Miraculously, he wasn’t paralyzed and survived. “I was laid up in bed for five months to heal up. It was a big time of reflection for me. It was when I knew there was a bigger picture and bigger calling than what I was doing outside of the Navy,” he said.

Cosby retired from the Navy after 21 years of service in 2012, not long after getting married and having a little girl.

But with the good came some surprising challenges. Cosby said his transition was much harder than he had anticipated or was prepared for. Eventually, he was led into roles mentoring student veterans which he enjoyed, and thrived.

After attending his first Veteran EDGE event and spending five minutes with Matthew Griffin, who founded Combat Flip Flops while deployed to Afghanistan, Cosby was motivated to make a change and do something new. “Entrepreneurship is so rewarding and just really fills your heart. I think that’s why I fell in love with it. It has so much that can be offered,” he shared.

While maintaining his role at Syracuse University within the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Cosby eventually co-founded STZY. “It doesn’t stand for anything but really means you have elegance with your style and with your fitness,” he said with a smile. The company was focused on one product: socks.

Read his full story

USMC Running Team, US Olympic Marathon Trials

Lindsay Carrick graduated from the National Capital Region Onward to Opportunity program with a Project Management Professional certification. 

Lindsay Carrick writes:

Lindsay Carrick

“From my personal experience, the Onward to Opportunity (O2O) Program could not have a more fitting title. The provided services, networking experiences, shared resources, and engaged support while earning a professional certification has strengthened my confidence during a career transition from military service.

Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 2015, I learned to embrace unknowns by having a plan due to the unpredictable nature of my military occupational specialty. As a Marine Corps Logistics Officer, my tasks included training multiple platoons of Marines and Officer Candidates, leading numerous transportation convoys, and ensuring the readiness of tactical vehicles to include M1A1 Abrams Tanks. My sense of planning was also reinforced by being a member of the Marine Corps Running Team and training for races of varying distances, from 6.1 to 26.2 miles, within and outside of the United States. This self-discipline culminated in achieving an Olympic trial qualifying marathon time at the World Military Games in 2019, and I competed at the Olympic Marathon Trials in February 2020 before the onset of COVID-19. However, I had not given my upcoming career transition the same level of forethought and preparation.

While I had completed the required Marine Corps Transition Readiness Seminar, I still felt uncertain about my transition: how to translate my skills, improve my resume, and expand my networking platform to name a few concerns.  I came across O2O to pursue my Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification through the enthusiastic recommendation of a colleague.  The immediate support and orientation I received from the O2O Program Coordinators, Karen Santiano Francis and Sandra Smith, enabled a smooth application process and timely enrollment into the April 2021 Cohort before completing active duty service in June 2021.

The week-long virtual orientation, known as the “cohort launch,” provided in-depth workshops and webinars with professional experts and former O2O participants while also offering insight to many companies across various industries. I was able to ask career-related as well as PMP-specific questions and receive immediate, genuine feedback. As a result, I was able to better understand how my skills can translate into a healthcare career I am passionate about, connect with presenters and cohort members via LinkedIn, and utilize a resume assistance program through an O2O employer partner.

Karen and Sandra’s consistent, down-to-earth communication throughout the 90-day coursework period has been phenomenal, despite a large cohort size of 70 other members.  The facilitation of an online PMP study group, office hours, and one-on-one discussions are some of the ways they have helped me stay on track as I faced unique schedule circumstances. The O2O Program has broadened my knowledge, provided a foundational network, and made me a stronger applicant. I am excited to pursue opportunities that will incorporate project management with my passion to continue serving others due to the skills I have gained from the O2O Program.”

Senior Advisory Business Intelligence Analyst, Frontier Technology

Roy Wilson successfully completed 6 courses through Onward to Opportunity: PMP, CISSP, Agile Certified Practitioner, SSGB, Data Science Concepts and PHR. He is the first graduate to do so at our Hampton Roads location.

Wilson Writes:

Roy WilsonBeing extremely nervous about transition at my last military command before retirement, I sought out all the transitioning resources available — paid, free, or otherwise. Before coming in contact with Onward to Opportunity (O2O), I had participated in 7-10 different transitioning resource programs, completed all the introductory workshops for all of them, completed 4 programs and didn’t see enough value in the other programs to continue / finish. From the introductory sessions of O2O, from meeting the quality of people running the cohorts (Paulina Thompson and John Malfitano), to listening to the panelists who remain committed to supporting O2O and who talk deeply about transition… about lasting personal success through and after transition – I was inspired to take full advantage of the opportunity that O2O provides.

The timeframe I started my coursework coincided with my starting my next career. As I was working through the first course, I found I was already using those stated best practices in my job performance and bringing some of the course recommendations to my company for better customer understanding and relationships. Inspired by using and applying what I learned daily, I completed the coursework and exams for the first course in 2 weeks. To watch my work acumen increase so fast after and during the first course, I completed the coursework for 5 additional courses within the first 3 months of the O2O term. The five additional courses also strengthened the concepts learned in the first course as they all use the world-wide recognized terminology. As a result, by the 4-month mark in the program, I had obtained the formal certification for the first course and started my self-study for an additional certification.

If you would have asked me what the best part of the program was before I started it, I would have told you that it was totally grant funded — i.e. free to me!  But after going through the program, completing one professional, world-wide recognized certification and the coursework for 5 others, I will tell you that the best parts were learning and applying world-wide recognized corporate language and the care the cohort directors (Paulina and John) placed in MY transition to allow me to be successful!

Noah's Ark Child Care Academy

OtisLieutenant Colonel Otis Thomas has over 17 years of service as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and still serves today as Deputy Command Chaplain with the U.S. Army Reserve.

In 2015, he was encouraged by his mentor to open a quality child care facility. Otis opened Noah’s Ark Child Care Academy in Euclid, Ohio with three children and two teachers. Within several months, enrollment soared to 48 children with seven teachers.

When he first discovered IVMF entrepreneurship programs, Noah’s Ark Child Care Academy was already open and Otis also owned several rental properties, in addition to working a traditional 9-5.

“I knew business,” said Otis. “But more so from the practical, hands-on side. I never received formal training on how to start a business.”

He first participated in Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) with EBV consortium partner, University of Missouri. The following year, Otis attended the first cohort of EBV-Accelerate, designed to prepare business owners for sustainable growth. In the years since EBV-Accelerate, he has attended the Veteran EDGE Conference three times, saying that he “loves the Veteran EDGE Conference because it’s a great time to catch up with familiar faces, network, and resharpen your skills. You go back home to your business refreshed and ready to conquer the world.”

Today, Noah’s Ark Child Care Academy is at capacity with more than 100 students enrolled. Feedback from area public school teachers is that students who attended Noah’s Ark have outstanding academic progress, as well as respectful and courteous behavior. Otis also owns a real estate investment company, boasting 24 units in its current portfolio with plans in place to purchase an additional 10 units, and his third daycare will open in the summer of 2021.

“I am motivated by creating value, building things, and achieving goals,” said Otis. His self-described “steely determination” as a “lifelong learner” has been a difference maker in his entrepreneurial aspirations.

Otis, we are honored to be part of your business story.

Board Member for San Diego Pride

Joanna SansoterraIVMF’s Onward to Opportunity Program Coordinator Joanna Sansoterra was recently elected as a board member for SD Pride!

When asked what this means for her, Joanna responded, “Part of why I am a proud member of San Diego’s Pride board is to give back to my community.  As a closeted lesbian during most of my military career, I was assisted and guided by amazing LGBTQ+ elders and my charge now is to give back and serving is one avenue for me to do this.  I wholeheartedly believe in the mission of SD Pride to foster pride, equality, and respect for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities, locally, nationally and globally. Pride month commemorates the Stonewall riots, which occurred in June of 1969 and we celebrate the progress and accomplishments of the LGBTQ+ community.  My hope is those reading this will head out during Pride month and give it a go!”

Read more about Joanna and SD Pride.

From Start-Up to Vet100 in Four Years

JJ StakemLike many military-connected entrepreneurs, J.J.’s business was developed from his experiences in the military. “We are in aviation but we differentiate ourselves by helping government programs to become exceptional program management and technical solutions,” J.J. said in a recent interview.

Two years prior to starting his business, J.J. heard about the IVMF from someone who had recently attended EBV. When J.J. launched Objective Area Solutions, he remembered IVMF and looked it up online. “IVMF is a victim of its own success – it does seem too good to be true,” said J.J. “But there’s no catch. Well-funded, well-managed, well-designed.”

J.J. Stakem walked into Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) in the summer of 2016 with a business plan in hand, having started his company Objective Area Solutions mere months before. At the end of the three-phase program, J.J. was awarded EBV’s Most Outstanding Venture.

J.J. returned to the IVMF to attend the Veteran EDGE Conference in 2018 as an opportunity to reconnect. “Starting and running a small business is a journey,” said J.J. “There are inflection points along the way. There’s a constant need for engagement and that’s what drew me back to the IVMF. The IVMF is increasingly providing opportunities to reconnect with education, resources, and people.”

This year, Objective Area Solutions has been named to Inc. 5000’s annual list of the fastest-growing businesses in the country, ranking #3 in the D.C. Metro Region. In addition, the company is ranked #36 on the Vet100 list, honoring the fastest-growing veteran-owned and -operated privately-held companies.

Veterans Program for Politics and Civic Engagement Graduate

jonathan sym

Jonathan Sym is a Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and continues his service after more than 22 years. His most recent deployment was in 2018 where he served as the Chief of Staff for the U.S. Special Operations Command operating in North and West Africa with its headquarters in Baumholder, Germany.

“It was an amazing tour, the best tour I have ever had,” said Sym. “Though I’ve served in many joint operations, this [deployment] was the first time I’ve had the privilege of working with the special operations community.”

During his tour, he served with Army Green Berets, Marine Raiders and Navy Seals. His first deployment was in support of Kosovo Operations in 2013, which involved service members from other branches including military forces from 19 NATO countries.

“To this day, many of us are still very close. We see each other once in a while and stay in touch through social media,” said Sym about the bonds and mutual respect people gain through serving together. “When you go through difficult situations with people in the military, particularly in hazard duty zones, they become lifelong friends.”

Sym’s camaraderie with members of other military branches, in part, led him to the Veterans Program for Politics and Civic Engagement (VPPCE). Sym’s neighbor and former Army Officer and West Point graduate Raymond Wong recently participated in this collaboration between Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Wong told him about VPPCE’s overview and actionable strategies for running for political office. Wong told Sym he should apply if he ever decided to run for office.

Read The Full Interview with Jonathan Sym

President and Founder of Lambert Financial

Hartnel Lambert with his sons

Hartnel Lambert, military veteran, EBV Graduate and Veteran EDGE participant.

Hartnel Lambert was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and immigrated to the United States of America when he was 9 years old. Moving to the U.S. was one of the most challenging and – no doubt – the most rewarding experiences of his life. He was nervous at first, but his father who migrated to the U.S. decades before he did, helped by paving the way for him because he knew the benefits and wanted him to have a better life in general; and, more specifically, a better education. While growing up in Jamaica, Lambert always dreamt of living in the U.S. – a country of endless opportunities where anyone can be and/or achieve whatever they wanted to be/achieve by working for it. Thus, he considers himself extremely fortunate to be a U.S. citizen. Among other things, he vigorously pursued and achieved his educational aspirations because he knew how difficult it would have been to achieve in Jamaica. After completing high school, Lambert joined the United States Navy and traveled the world – gaining invaluable experience and life skills. In addition to the skills he ascertained, the Navy provided him with the opportunity to pursue and obtain his college degrees.

Read The Full Story

Founder/President of The Joel Fund

Brooke Dickhart, founder/president of The Joel Fund – NCServes Provider

Brooke DickhartFor Brooke Dickhart, growing up in a military town meant jet noise at all hours of the day and insane traffic at 3:30 in the afternoon. She remembers during Desert Storm how the traffic lessened, and yellow ribbons appeared on trees and light posts all across the area. Brooke, the daughter of a Navy SEAL, was born and raised in Virginia Beach, VA.

Coming from a military family (Brooke’s uncle was an A-6 pilot and also stationed in Virginia Beach) and living in a military town, Brooke has always understood the sacrifices made by the military and their families. But this took on a whole different meaning when she lost her dad in 2014 after a long battle with PTSD, substance abuse, and depression. It is because of this experience that Brooke started a non-profit in her dad’s honor – The Joel Fund. The Joel Fund’s mission is to reconnect veterans to life at home. They use the power of community to engage, educate, and encourage veterans and their families. With a resource connection and a community arts program, The Joel Fund strives to provide a high level of service to the men, women, and families they help.

“I truly love getting to work with the men and women who served our country – and I get to do it in honor of my dad.” Brooke’s dedication to the military community is driven by her understanding of the sacrifices military families make every day. To learn more about The Joel Fund and their services (in-person and virtual), please visit

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 sowingEve 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 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!”

Outreach Coordinator, University of Colorado

Jerome youngFor Jerome Young, the prospect of transitioning out of the military after 26 years was “nerve-wracking.” He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, and he wasn’t sure how his qualifications would be received in the civilian sector.

Further complicating matters, he had not spent much time in Colorado Springs before he transferred to Fort Carson so he and his wife could settle in the area.

A coordinator at the USO Pathfinder project referred him to Onward to Opportunity, and it eased his transition nerves in a variety of ways.

Networking events in the community with O2O partners, such as the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, helped him meet people and opened his eyes to new local opportunities. Abroad mix of O2O classes also prepared him to take advantage of the opportunities. An etiquette class gave him tips on everything from handling business cards to navigating
networking lunches, and a tutorial from a representative of Jos. A Bank provided guidance on how to dress for interviews.

“O2O gave us the background to attend job fairs and network with confidence,” he said. “The networking events and other training were really helpful. When all you know is the military, they help give you a stronger, better sense of how to engage confidently in the civilian world.”

Jerome earned a Project Management Professional certification through O2O and he is convinced it helped him land his current job as a military outreach coordinator at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where he now helps other transitioning veterans land on their feet after leaving the military – sometimes through referrals to O2O.

Sgt. Clean Car Wash

Brian Krusz at Vet100 dinner at Veteran EDGE conferenceBrian Krusz didn’t have big dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. After serving in the Marine Corps for eight years, he became an executive banking recruiter and was laid off during the 2008 economic crisis. On the drive home from his last day at that job, he told himself that, moving forward, he would control his own destiny. He has been an entrepreneur ever since.

In 2013, Krusz founded Sgt. Clean Car Wash, an express exterior car wash chain in Northeast Ohio. For the past three years, the company has been listed on the Vet100, a product of an IVMF partnership with Inc. recognizing the 100 fastest-growing veteran-owned and -operated businesses in the country.

He has attended multiple Veteran EDGE conferences and has big plans for 2021 – growing his number of Sgt. Clean’s Car Wash locations by 50%!

Learn more about Brian’s entrepreneurial journey here:

National Geospatial-Intelligence College

Onward to opportunity graduate“I’d given 19 years directly focused on the military. I wanted to make sure during the transition that I took some of that focus and put it on myself.”

When Zakenyia Simmons joined the Army at 17, her plan was to serve four years and move on. But she loved the teamwork, the camaraderie and the travel of the military. She also developed a passion for her field of imagery intelligence, and happily deployed eight times to locations ranging from South America to Qatar to Afghanistan.

But after the birth of her daughter in 2014, “I knew I needed to slow down,” Zakenyia said. So, she began making plans to prepare for life in the civilian sector after two decades in the Army. Fortunately, Zakenyia’s skills – which involve analyzing complex imagery captured by satellites or sensors on airplanes – are in high demand outside of the military, so Zakenyia was confident she’d have success finding work.

Still, she had no professional certifications and had never conducted a job search, so she decided to participate in the Onward to Opportunity program at Fort Bragg to pursue a certificate in SAS computer programming.

She said the initial two-day in-person training from O2O was “phenomenal,” particularly the in-depth overview she received about working in the IT industry. She also valued the advice she received on marketing herself, from updating her resume to appeal to civilian IT employers, to establishing and setting up a LinkedIn profile.

Today Zakenyia is employed by BAE Systems as a geospatial intelligence instructor at the National Geospatial-Intelligence College.

“Anyone I know who has transitioned or is getting ready to transition, I’m a big advocate for Onward to Opportunity,” she said. “It’s been great for me, and I’ve seen it work not just for me – I’ve seen the people to the left of me and to the right of me in my cohort getting jobs.”

Spartan, LLC

Alejandro RamirezRetired Maj. Alejandro Ramirez — a graduate of IVMF’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans at Purdue University, Boots to Business, and Veteran EDGE – is working hard to connect veteran business owners and transitioning service members in his state and in their communities. In order to do so, he founded Kentucky Veteran Business Alliance. According to The News-Enterprise, Ramirez can reach out to 34,000 veterans throughout the state with this alliance.

Ramirez, who also owns Universal Spartan, LLC, reflected on what helped him become successful. One of those reasons was IVMF’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV).

He writes:

“EBV taught me how to use my military skills in the entrepreneur environment and empowered me to grow into a successful business owner and entrepreneur. EBV gave me resources that I did not know about that helped me function my business. EBV introduced me to mentors, who are now great friends and investors in my company. This program created a network of veteran businesses and non-veteran businesses that I could reach out for lessons learned and ways of thinking like an experienced business owner. EBV launched my business in so many ways that I would have never expected and gave me the opportunity to understand my day-to-day operations of my business. Lastly, it made me think strategically– instead of the day-to-day operation — to continue to grow my business in the future.”

In 2018, Ramirez was awarded Kentucky Veteran Owned Small Business of the Year. You can visit his business website at or follow him on Facebook:


Written by Stephanie Glover, Boots to Business Instructor

As a military veteran and new franchise owner of a Bun-D restaurant, my journey to this point has been surreal.

I enlisted in the United States Air Force in 2000 as a Human Resources Specialist. My first duty station was Ramstein, AFB, Germany, which is where I met my husband, and my multi-faceted career began. Following our tour there, we were then stationed at Osan Air Base, South Korea, Yokota Air Base, Japan, and finally my last base at Maxwell AFB in Alabama. I separated honorably due to pregnancy with my second son, as my husband and I decided that it would be better for our growing family if both of us were not subject to deployments and extended time away from our children as active-duty parents. Initially, I planned to retire from the military after serving 20+ years, though the decision for me to separate proved to be the best as well as a blessing in disguise.

My second son was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease and needed me full time. With two small children, one of which being a sick child, there were not many options for me to obtain work. After applying for multiple jobs that would not offer me the type of flexibility I needed, I decided to go into business for myself. My first endeavor began with starting a childcare center, which would offer me the ability to care for my children as well as other children. After completing all the necessary paperwork to establish the center and gaining approval to open for business, I ultimately decided not to go through with it. It was a tough decision; however, I tell people all the time that leaving the military was the toughest decision for me. Everything that followed came easy!

After carefully considering my options, I decided to become a realtor. It became a joint endeavor for both my husband and I, and we started flipping houses and beautiful homes for low-income families. Since my husband was still a full-time active-duty officer, flexibility was key as we would PCS every 2 to 3 years. I became a licensed real estate broker, mortgage broker, title abstractor, credit repairer and anything else to be successful in the Real Estate business to ensure we were creating the best opportunities for our family and our future. Even though real estate was my passion, I made the best of every situation by not placing myself into one specialty. I have owned and operated two brick and mortar businesses and originated a multi-level marketing candle business, with over 1,000 consultants (mostly military spouses) as well as a range of consultation services.

I was recruited for my first job since getting out the military at the same time my husband received new orders, moving us to Shaw AFB, South Carolina. I started teaching Boots to Business (B2B) at the Small Business Development Center, introducing retiring and separating military members to the skills, knowledge, and resources needed to launch businesses, as well as developing business plans. This program gave me newfound meaning and purpose! I absolutely love everything about the program and will continue to be part of it as long as it is around. With all my past successes and failures as a business owner, there were so many things I could have avoided and made my journey easier had I been introduced to this information prior to my transition out of the military. This program empowers me to give back to other military members who are faced with one of the greatest decisions of their lives: what to do after the military and how to get there.

My educational background includes an Associate’s and Bachelors’ degree in Human Resources. I also obtained my MBA graduate degree in Human Resources with a concentration in Finance. All the education I have acquired continues to ensure that I am successful with every path taken as an entrepreneur and I hope to inspire my children and anyone that has future aspirations to do the same for themselves. I am the epitome of creating opportunities and consistently looking for avenues to serve the military community.

I continued working with the IVMF while my husband was planning his retirement. My husband’s last duty assignment is where we both started, Ramstein Air Base, Germany after serving honorably for 25 years. This is the beginning to a perfect ending of our chapter as a military family. My husband and I have enjoyed our military journey and made the most out of every place we have lived.

For my latest adventure, my family was introduced to Bun-D, a healthy food restaurant chain that is currently at most bases overseas and we were offered the opportunity to bring the chain’s concept to the United States. I am proud to announce that I will be the first franchisee for Bun-D in the U.S. and am already scheduled to open three locations, with the first at Shaw AFB, South Carolina on January 22, 2021. The other two locations are scheduled to open within the next six months (more details to come!) and we are thrilled and honored.

This is our way to serve those brave men and women in uniform who sacrifice so much to keep our country safe. We understand the military lifestyle and the desires for healthy food on military installations. We are thankful and excited to have been granted this opportunity, and even more grateful for our military careers to have been a stepping-stone for our success!

Onward to Opportunity Advisor

I chose to participate in this program as way to begin my transition to the civilian workforce.  There are not many programs that offer Brian Collinsyou the opportunity to obtain a professional certificate in one of the numerous career fields. What I enjoyed the most about this class was the computer-based learning and ability to learn at my own pace.

The advice I would give to incoming students would be to take this class seriously and use all the opportunities presented in this class to your advantage.  You will be presented with numerous opportunities to network, use them. I would recommend that new students prepare and study hard while you are in this class. The ability to use Hire Heroes USA is another opportunity presented to you that I recommend you use, especially with resume writing.

I benefitted from this course by taking the advice and mentorship provided by the Fort Drum Onward to Opportunity team, to improve my interviewing skills since I had never interviewed for a job before.  I was also able to take detailed notes on the coursework and use those to help study. The most important part of the training was the ability to take my time on the coursework especially since I was unfamiliar with some of the areas.  I would also say that the networking that I did during this course was exceptional.

I have been recommending this program to everyone I know that is currently in the transition process.  The ability to obtain a professional certificate from an accredited institution is very important to potential employers and you are able to get this certificate for free, without using any of your education benefits.  I highly recommend this program.

Learn more about Brian Collins by checking out his Veterans Day story on Spectrum News.

Savannah Sauce Company

Tracey RichburgTracey Richburg, Army veteran and CEO of Savannah Sauce Company, recently shared her recipe for success with CBS’ Eye on Veterans and was featured on Fox News last Veterans Day. She was able to successfully shift from serving as a medical technician in the Army to becoming a CEO of a food and beverage company with the help of valuable training, resources, and mentorship she received from the EBV program.

“I am still taking advantage of that information – the training, the mentorship – that I was connected with” at EBV. “It’s just an awesome program.”

The Savannah Sauce Company is currently found in Whole Foods across seven states in the southeast and are working on expanding into different parts of the country.

Onward to Opportunity Coordinator

Danielle bootesDanielle Bootes spent over six and a half years in the Army, mostly in HR. When she first heard about O2O and its numerous course offerings and certifications, she was eager to find something that would complement her experience in the Army as well as her education. She decided to enroll in the SPHR Program to advance her HR knowledge.

To Danielle, her favorite part of the program was the diversity within the classes. She got to interact with veterans who had already been out, retirees, and military spouses. This was critical in helping her transition to civilian life.

Read The Full Story

Project Management Professional (PMP) Certified

Chris TeodoroThe best piece of advice I can provide to active and transitioning service members is to take full advantage of the many resources available to pursue advance certifications and training. While transitioning out of the military can be a daunting task, anything is possible with good time management, self-discipline, and initiative. I was once told by my former Special Forces Team Sergeant to “never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best.”

I was born in the Philippines and emigrated to the U.S. when I was 16 where I had to learn a new language, make new friends, and adapt to a new culture. I learned at an early age the words resiliency and determination. I also learned early on to set goals for myself. I managed to accomplish many of my goals to include a successful military career as an Army Special Forces soldier.

Read the full story


Jess TrevinoMy business partner Joe Smarro and I founded SolutionPoint+, a mental health justice reform consulting and training firm. Our company has trained hundreds of law enforcement officers, teaching them how to de-escalate and communicate with people suffering from mental illness. Moreover, the organization has helped many officers and veterans learn about mental wellness and resiliency. September is Suicide Prevention Month. The subject of suicide is at the heart and purpose of my life’s work. Suicide awareness and prevention are among our nation’s largest social issues, especially in veteran and first-responder populations.

Read more about Jess Trevino and SolutionPoint+

HCA Healthcare

Jacqueline KellMaking the transition from the United States Army to the civilian sector was one of the more uncertain times I have experienced in my adult life. The military wasn’t my first job, but it was my first profession after college graduation. It was an honor to serve with my fellow soldiers and carry on the family tradition, even if I didn’t plan to stay until retirement.

Read Jacqueline’s Full story.

United States Air Force Academy

Alange CastellyNot knowing when the right time is to focus on your transition instead of your military obligations is one of the many struggles for many transitioning service members. One of the requirements of the Onward to Opportunity program is a document that requires battalion-level leadership approval. I believe this document creates an understanding for the service members and their units.

Read Alange’s full story.

NORIE Shoe Company

Nastasha StandardNatasha Norie Standard took a leap of faith in 2017, going from paratrooper to fashion phenom. She started the NORIE Shoe Company, a luxury footwear brand that combines comfort and style for women who want to have it all. After spending 20 years in the military and dedicating her life to protect and serve, many would think launching an apparel line would be a piece of cake. However, being an entrepreneur comes with its own set of challenges. Read her story.


Alan LlanasMaking the transition from the United States Army to the private sector was one of the more stressful times I have experienced in my adult life, especially at the beginning of a pandemic. Serving my country as a first-generation America was one of the best decisions and is the most rewarding job I ever had the privilege of doing.

In 2019, I made the difficult decision to separate and apply for roles in the supply-chain industry. As I knew that I wanted to hang up the uniform, I devoted as much time as I could to fine-tuning up my LinkedIn account and resume while trying to find programs that could give me an edge in my search for a new vocation. I heard of IVMF’s Onward to Opportunity (O2O) program from a former colleague of mine. He recommended the O2O program to give me the tools to study for the PMP and Agile certifications that will help me standout when applying for a new career.

Read the full story.

The Becker Group

O2O graduate Sarah ChenAfter I passed the PMP exam, the goal for springtime was to continue to network with O2O and hopefully secure something part-time heading into Summer/Fall that could be potentially portable when we PCS next Summer.

The friends at Hire Our Heroes offered to set me up with a mentoring conversation – another PMP certified project manager – who could speak with me about how she explored opportunities and was eventually hired. We spoke RIGHT before the sky fell and the lockdown began. This ACP mentor connected me with her friend who works as a full-time remote project manager out of Argentina where he resides with his girlfriend who’s in school. He hired me!

I am still astonished this month – even amidst the pandemic and lockdown – even with the children home and homeschooling – that I had the self-confidence to push for professional goals. I decided NO I wasn’t going to let fear stop me, and YES, I was capable and qualified, and that YES we are living in the golden age of remote work and “WHY NOT ME?”

Read the full story.

Body Aqua

 Sherman Williams showing off his product Body Aqua at IVMF's EDGE conference.After serving nearly 25 years in the U.S. Army, Sherman Williams continues to serve. But this time, his mission is to forge lasting wellness, bettering people’s lives through his natural beverage product – Body Aqua™. The idea to create Body Aqua™ was sparked when Williams, founder of the company and IVMF graduate, experienced extreme dehydration during military service, working in unforgiving, arid desert environments. Since launching the product in 2015, Williams has seen his product reach grow exponentially. Recently, he secured a partnership with NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Colin Garrett and the Sam Hunt Racing No. 26 Toyota team. Read more about this incredible opportunity.

Anything But Beer

Logan Bonney and Brittany Berry

Anything But Beer, a craft brewery in downtown Syracuse, was incorporated in June 2017. “We make grain-free, gluten-free, craft alcoholic beverages that are essentially beer alternatives,” says owner Logan Bonney.

For eight years, Bonney served at Hancock Field, working as a sensor operator and mobilizing during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom Sentinel.

“Serving in the Guard was such a unique opportunity,” says Bonney. “I was on active duty, but in Syracuse. So while I never left the base, I was controlling planes in the Middle East—actively a part of the nation’s fight supporting troops on the ground.”

Read the full story on Logan Bonney. You can also read about how Anything But Beer has been helping during the Covid-19 global pandemic.

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