Success Story Saturday

Founder & Owner Faux the Love of Legal, PLLC

The following is from O2O graduate Terra Melson:

Terra MelsonI was interested in adding cybersecurity to my law practice, and while attending the Army’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) I learned Syracuse University’s D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) provides wonderful educational opportunities for veterans. Their program, Onward to Opportunity, is aimed at enhancing their marketability in the labor force and immersion in a robust community of like-minded veterans. I faced many challenges after my transition, which overlapped with my coursework at IVMF. Namely, I experienced the physical and mental ramifications related to my time in service which, at times, affected my ability to complete my coursework. My IVMF instructor was beyond compassionate and created a highly supportive environment that was conducive to these challenges. When I retired, there were not enough veterans taking advantage of programs like the IVMF. 

After contacting the instructor, I enrolled in the O2O online program, where I learned about customer service excellence in the business management industry. The program also offers several pathways to obtain certifications, including AWS Cloud, Project Management Professional Certification (PMP), CompTIA, and more. These certifications not only assist in transitioning to a new career, but also provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace. If you’re unsure which path to take, the program offers a multi-phased process to help you select the best learning pathway. Upon completion of the orientation and assessments, the IVMF team will review your assessment and enroll you in the desired career track for the next available cohort. Additionally, the program offers soft skills training in areas such as resume building, mock interviews, and job hunting skills, providing all the necessary resources to take you wherever you desire.

Last year, I established my own company, Faux the Love of Legal, PLLC, which is dedicated to providing legal services with kindness, passion, and compassion. We aim to change the legal stereotype to one of conscience, empowering innovators in the vegan industry and inspiring further innovation in the vegan community. Our vision is to create a healthier, more sustainable and cruelty-free world.

The veteran population at IVMF has grown significantly, and I highly recommend it to any veteran who has aspirations of advancing their education, skills, and abilities to give back to our veteran community positively.

Dope Coffee Opens First Brick and Mortar Store

Dope Coffee tasting roomIn December of 2022, Michael Lloyd stood up in a cramped conference room and looked at a group of representatives from Fiserv. He had mere minutes to convey a compelling reason why they should consider his veteran-owned business, Dope Coffee, for a $10,000 grant from their Back to Business campaign. 

Lloyd, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was in the conference room with nine other military-affiliated entrepreneurs that day. They had spent the day together participating in free classes on entrepreneurism from the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and at the end were each given the opportunity to deliver a pitch to Fiserv.  

What Lloyd and the others didn’t know at the time was that Fiserv had already committed to giving $100,000 to 10 veteran owned businesses in Georgia, particularly those owned by minorities or entrepreneurs from underserved communities. 

On February 18th, Lloyd will open the first brick and mortar store for Dope Coffee alongside his wife and co-founder, Michelle Lloyd. At a grand opening they’re calling, ”The Dope Coffee Experience,” the pair will join the more than 37,000 veteran-owned businesses in the greater Atlanta metro area, but what the store offers is entirely unique to the Decatur community. 

Dope Coffee aims to be the premiere choice of coffee to represent the South. By combining the worlds of coffee, hip hop, and the local Decatur community, the Lloyds have created a successful business model that’s pre-packaged for success.  

From their early appearance in Forbes magazine, to the increasing awareness of their upcoming grand opening, Dope Coffee has steadily built a systemic community and all the buzz around their brand that’s guaranteed to deliver entrepreneurial success, one cup at a time. 

Kyle Matthews Found His PMP Certificate a Big Help in Securing His Position as a U.S Navy Test Pilot

When retired U.S. Navy Commander Kyle Matthew was planning to leave the military after twenty years of service, he felt he had a pretty good idea of where his career would take him. Those same twenty years in the Navy also gave him the experience to have a backup plan in place too. While he was going through the transition process, Matthew found out about programs the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families offers. 

“I first heard about IVMF from my Transition Assistance Program (TAP) class that i had to take when retiring from the Navy,” said Matthew. “As a Navy pilot I already had my post military career mapped out, but it is always good to have a backup plan, you never know what might happen.” 

Matthew chose the Project Management Professional course offered through the Onward to Opportunity program. Like many other veterans who had a career in the military, project management was a natural career to transition into. 

“I chose the project management professional (PMP) career field because I had experience in managing programs and people in the Navy, plus it is a pretty secure job,” said Matthew, who now works as a test pilot for the U.S. Navy at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, headquarters in Patuxent River, Maryland. 

Choosing a career as a test pilot doesn’t mean that Matthew’s PMP certification went to waste, in fact, it was instrumental in helping to secure him a position in his current career. 

“Having PMP helped with my resume, as the job did require me to also be a project officer,” said Matthew, “When a project or test comes in, one of my tasks is to manage it all the way up to completion.” 

The PMP certification he earned has helped along his post-service journey, and Matthew said he encourages anyone who is interested to pursue it. The program is free of charge for servicemembers, veterans, and their spouses. Often, however, this same audience can have barriers that prevent them from taking advantage of opportunities like this. 

“Once enrolled the biggest challenges I faced was life itself. I was still in the Navy, working part time with a local aviation company as a pilot, and trying to make time for a family of six.” Matthew explained, “Time management was a necessary skill to have. Finding time to go through the courses, complete the coursework and study was tough, but the IVMF was great. They provided reminders on milestones that needed to be met and offered any assistance i needed. IVMF also helped greatly with the application to take the PMP exam, which was a process on its own.”  


Kaylenne Brown treats customers to her healthy Plant-Based EatzTM

Kaylenne BrownWhen 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-WISEIgniteVeteran EDGE and EBV at Cornell, which specializes in hospitality and culinary businesses.

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Veteran Winemaker Distills Some Truths About Entrepreneurship

Corey founder of Bravery wines working a tasting table

When Corey Christman retired from the Air Force in 2012, he had plenty of military experience as a special agent. He also had a few years of experience as an amateur wine maker. Before parlaying his passion into a new profession, he first leveraged his MBA and military experience as a corporate consultant. A few steps into a PhD program in organizational development and professional leadership moved Christman to recalibrate. In 2014 he decided to turn his winemaking hobby into a full-blown business, and he launched Bravery Wines in 2020.

At first blush, six years may seem like a long time to get a new business up and running. Years into his entrepreneurial journey, people would often ask him, “What’s taking you so long?” He’d brush it off and say he’s just a country boy trying to make it, or maybe he doesn’t learn as fast as other people. Really what he was doing was a whole lot of entrepreneurial learning to prepare his business for success.

“There have been a lot of well-intentioned people, and while they mean well, I think they worried that maybe I was investing too much time and effort,” he said. “But when I went into it, I didn’t want to be another wine brand. I wanted to create something special and meaningful that people enjoy.”

Christman completed enology and commercial winemaking operations courses at Washington State University. He flew from the East Coast out to Napa Valley to learn from another veteran winemaker who answered all of his thoughtfully prepared questions. He approached industry experts in his home region, the Finger Lakes in upstate New York to learn even more. There, he found mentors John and Ann Martini, owners of Anthony Road Wine Company, and head winemaker Peter Becraft. He took on an internship to learn the ins and outs of the business, literally. One of the prerequisites of his tenure was that he could fit inside the wine tanks, as a big part of winemaking is keeping them scrubbed clean. He also completed IVMF’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV), which was a new program at the time.

“I was all-in with EBV when I found out it was a quick-start guide,” said Christman. “The staff, the dedication, the professionalism, they all take the operational points you’d learn in business school, tell you to focus on the bite-sized chunks, then equip you with professionals like marketers, attorneys, to help you get going. I could take what I’d learned in wine school, and what I learned in books to make the best wine possible.”

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EBV Played a Crucial Role for Alumni Kelo Makelele

Kelo MakeleleKelo Makelele is the Director of Operations at RedTrace Technologies, a cyber, information technology, and management consulting firm whose focus is to deliver solutions to the intelligence community. He has been an entrepreneur for over 8 years and started RedTrace Technologies in 2017. Kelo has participated in several IVMF programs including, EBV ’17, IGNITE ’19, and Veteran EDGE ’20, ’21. He believes many of his entrepreneurial skills were sharpened by those programs and is grateful for his introduction to the IVMF through EBV.

“EBV provided an invaluable knowledge base when I was starting my company,” Kelo shared. “It helped closed the gaps of knowledge”

Kelo recently attended the EBV reunion, which was hosted for alumni at the National Veterans Resource Center on Syracuse University’s Campus. He was excited to meet other veterans and reconnect with friends from past EBV events to see how their companies were doing. Kelo was a part of a group of alumni who donated back to the reunion. He said, “I am giving back financially because my company is at a point where I can.” He acknowledged that without the support of funders when he went to conferences it would have been more challenging to get his business to where it is today.

Kelo encouraged others to do the same when they could and noted, “EBV played a crucial role in growing our company, and I want to ensure that other veterans can do the same.”

Vet100 Award Winner Alejandro Ramirez

Alejandro Ramirez“I am very persistent about telling other veterans about this program. Sometimes they even get annoyed by me,” said Alejandro Ramirez, a graduate of IVMF’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) at Purdue University, Boots to Business, and Veteran EDGE.

This year, Ramirez’s business Universal Spartan (SDVOSB) was selected as one of The Top 100 Fastest-Growing Veteran Businesses in the United States. SDVOSB started with a mission to provide a responsive and complete contracting source as a solution to federal government corporations, and domestic and foreign installations in the defense industry. Besides tactical medical, electrical, and industrial equipment, the company also has a general service administration schedule, where agencies can go online and search for products to help with their initiatives.

“We are like a one-stop sourcing solution for the federal government,” Ramirez said, “For the right product and the right reason.”

Starting in 2013, SDVOSB has become a certified veteran-owned company, SBA awarded minority-owned company, Inc. 5000 company, and now a VET100 company. Talking about his success, Ramirez said the difficult part is transitioning military experiences into potential.

Serving in the U.S. Army for 22 years, Ramirez said he is used to working with a task, a purpose, and a mission. The process already empowers veterans with many skills, like leadership, discipline, selfless service, and risk-taking. Being in the military means veterans are accustomed to focusing on these traits, but now they need to transition them to the corporate world.

“That is why IVMF is so helpful,” said Ramirez. “IVMF empowers you to transition all of these traits and values to make my business successful and help me in staying focused on my new mission, and to be able to be on the VET100 list.”

At this year’s Annual Vet100 Ceremony, Ramirez met other Vet100 company leaders, including fellow IVMF alum. While greeting and networking with other veteran business owners, presenters, government agency representatives, and others, Ramirez shared how important his experience was with the IVMF and why everyone should be supporting initiatives like those that the IVMF offers.

“I have learned persistence in the military, and when I talk about persistence, I am very persistent about telling other veterans about this program,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez was delighted to share the spotlight with so many other veterans at the Veteran Entrepreneur Success Summit, where members of this year’s VET100 list were honored. He recalled first going through IVMF programming when his company was in its early developmental stages and hoping to one day join the list. Today, Ramirez not only hopes to stay on the list, but hopes that through his networks and persistence he can help encourage others to start their own endeavors, attend IVMF programming, and join him on the VET100 list in the years to come.

“When some of these veterans attend the program, they finally say, OK, Ramirez, I’m attending the program, they attend it, and then they tell me – why I didn’t listen to you the first time?” For Ramirez, that is the reward for his persistence. “I want them to go to that program because that’s what helped me out.”

O2O Setup Zachary Ryder for a Smooth Transition

I chose Onward to Opportunity (O2O) because I was looking to change industries from Intelligence work to Cybersecurity. In order to make this transition, it was critical that I attained a professional certification in my new field. The ability to combine O2O’s resources with the DoD SkillBridge program gave me all the help and flexibility I needed to ensure a smooth transition back to civilian life.

What I liked the most specifically about O2O-Fort Carson’s Program is that Joe Aldaz, Fort Carson Program Manager, goes out of his way to localize the material. The in-person sessions in Colorado Springs were great not just because of the material that was covered but because they helped to break down the wall between military life and the local business community. Perspectives and networks can become somewhat limited in the service, and I appreciated how this program thrust its participants into communities they were not familiar with.

Support from continued after the in-person sessions through Aldaz’s “Hot!!! Opportunities” emails. One of these messages introduced me to the Colorado Springs Cybersecurity First Friday events and the local cybersecurity community. This local support helped me find my first post-military position and is one of the best aspects of O2O.

O2O sets you up for a smooth transition. They won’t sit the exam for you, but they will give you all the resources you need to succeed. Put in the work, get your certification and you will be amazed how many doors open to you!

Daniel Trtanj Finds his Light through EBV

Daniel Trtanj The impact that IVMF opportunities have presented to my family and me have been nothing short of a blessing. Like many other veterans, I felt disconnected and lost after transitioning out of the military. Though I was successful in college, I still dealt with my demons behind the scenes.

I was lacking purpose in my professional life and knew entrepreneurship was always a goal of mine, but in what field? I attended my first IVMF program in 2017 as an EBV student. I had an idea, but meeting other like-minded veterans and sharing my story eventually guided me into the business I operate today, At Eaze Extracts, a Hemp CBD brand.

As a young man, I grew up the only kid in my general social circle with divorced parents, poor parents, and the odds stacked against me with substance abusers around every corner. I was fortunate to have two parents who always kept taking steps forward and who through all the toxicity around us, showed me and exposed me to glimpses of light. I learned to volunteer and be willing to explore, and if not for those early life lessons building the foundation of my thought process, I may not be here today, but instead, I am and will continue to grow and support others.

Our business has steadily grown since, but the purpose and impact that we have made with so many customers that is what is the most rewarding part of this journey. I don’t believe I could have done half of what I have done without the IVMF. Especially after I was selected to participate in the D’Aniello Foundation Acceleration Challenge, where I received an award from the IVMF to support my business. Now, I have a much clearer path to growth and the support and resources necessary. I look forward to the person I will be five years from now, meeting and sharing my story with new EBV and IVMF participants, and inspiring and helping others who will be where I am today.

Erinn Roth’s Recipe for Entrepreneurship Success

Erinn RothIt’s no accident that Erinn Roth embodies many traits that successful entrepreneurs should have. She literally hails from a place called Enterprise, Mississippi, so maybe it’s part of her heritage. Her bold initiative, ingenuity, and military experience are assets that Roth has used in her small business endeavors. Her story is as relatable as it is inspiring for other military-connected entrepreneurs.

In November 2015, Roth made an appointment with her retirement officer. While making her plans to transition out of Army service, she set her sights on starting a business where she could tap into her love of Southern cooking and make some desserts on the side. That was her first plan, anyway. She likes to say if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plan. When she told her parents about her plans, her mom said, “whatever you decide to do, it’s going to be successful.” A month later, her mom died. It changed her whole universe, put her into a severe funk, and made her update those first plans. She remembers listening to Steve Harvey talk about stepping out on faith.

“Something said to me, ‘girl, get up now and start that business,’” she said. “What I heard was my mom telling me to go out and do it, and that’s when I got started.”

Roth’s retirement officer connected her to resources and services available to her, including GI Bill benefits, the SBA, and a list of the many entrepreneurship programs and services from the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).

“From there, it was like what Oprah calls an ‘aha moment’,” she said. “I saw all the programs and opened up so many doors.”

Two days after retiring from the Army in January 2017, Roth started pastry school at L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She started what has become Mrs. Jo’s Petite Eats Patisserie and Café, named after her mother, featuring made-from-scratch, small-batch, southern-inspired desserts with a French flair/twist. Now, instead of making desserts on the side, she’s opening her first brick-and-mortar presence in one of the toniest neighborhoods around the nation’s capital.

“This little southern girl from Mississippi is going to show Northern Virginia what I can bring to the table,” she said.

Scott Vincent Discovers More Than a Career Through O2O

Scott vincentOnward to Opportunity (O2O) has always accompanied Scott H. Vincent on his journey from veteran to student, and from being a successful student to having a successful career. Vincent discovered O2O during his senior year at the University of Colorado Denver. At the time, a student veteran in his graduate-level class told him that there is a free program where he can earn a PMP certification. Vincent didn’t believe it until he checked O2O’s website.

“I applied 10 minutes later,” he said.

After being accepted Vincent joined a cohort at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, CO, to get initiated in the program. Before leaving the Army years prior, he attended the Army Civilian Augmentation Program, or ACAP, as a transition out of the military. Different from ACAP that Vincent had taken at Fort Hood years ago, O2O changed the focus from “how to write a resume” and “how to look for a job” to important soft skills, such as Joe Valdez’s Emotional Intelligence lecture, which were not part of the ACAP program.

But O2O gives him much more than just a certification, “I would have had a much harder time earning that credential without the assistance of Katrina and Joe at O2O and would likely still be working at getting to where I’m currently at in my professional life without it.”

Following his military service, Vincent has worked for a variety of organizations, and he most recently joined the US Army Corps of Engineers as a Small Business Deputy and Procurement Analyst. He oversees the development of small businesses and helps to maximize their opportunities to participate in procurement processes. Those everyday responsibilities require him to interact with a variety of partners, customers, and contractual people, including teammates at Buckley AFB.

To give back to the community, Vincent now volunteers for the Mile-Hi Chapter for Project Management Institute (PMI) with their military outreach committee. He has referred numerous military-affiliated personnel to O2O as they work towards earning their PMP certifications. He also works on those same application workshops that O2O sent him to when he was in the cohort.

“I believe that when you’re given something of value, it’s important to pay that forward,” Vincent says, “O2O gave me a resource that helped me to be a better professional, so I try to pass on that knowledge and skill any way I can.”

Vincent’s final advice for incoming participants is to “take full advantage of the cohort”. He says it is very possible that the guy you’re sitting next to in the cohort is a manager at a big defense contracting firm or something similar and is looking for someone just like you that holds the credential you’re working on earning.

“Network, make friends, support each other, and (just like in the military) celebrate the successes…together.”

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

Dr. Cheryl Ford at VwiseMost 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.

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.”

IVMF EBV Alum T Nguyen ’21 Wins Shemin Grant for Tech Training

Thong Nguyen at EBV Su graduation

Thong “T” Nguyen at EBV-SU graduation.

The Shemin Grant was awarded to Thong “T” Nguyen, EBV SU 2021 alum and owner of Leyden Solutions, Inc., based in North Carolina. Nguyen was awarded $4,000 to help his company become a Certified Training Partner to deliver cryptocurrency technology and training to clients. The Shemin Micro-Grant Fund is an annual program where Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) SU Alumni can submit a proposal to have a specific business need funded to support the early stages of new venture creation. This initiative was made possible by an endowment from the family of Syracuse University alum and military veteran, Emanuel “Manny” Shemin.

“With new technology and new ways that the adversary can look at things, we have to be up to speed with the emerging technologies out there,” said Nguyen. “With industry and with government, threats are constantly evolving, and we have to stay abreast of the technology, training, and tools we can use to mitigate the different challenges.

Nguyen’s military experience in counterintelligence enables him to understand the importance of analysis in countering threat finance and helping to find illicit actors in this emerging sector set the government and industry are facing. The Shemin Grant funding will allow Nguyen’s team to train for a multi-phased certification program that will also allow them to present the course to others. He anticipates it will take approximately six months to complete the training.

“I am humbled to be awarded the Shemin Grant,” he said. “It will assist us as a business and help the national security infrastructure build capacity and increase capabilities in a much-needed area of cryptocurrency and blockchain analysis.”

Nguyen credits his experience with IVMF’s EBV program with making a tremendously positive impact overall.

“The more people who know about it, the better it is for everybody. It’s the best entrepreneurship program I have had the privilege of attending,” he said. “The IVMF brings in an amazing bunch of speakers, and there’s a cadre there that cares so much about veterans. I am so grateful for that program and the amazing people who work there.”

Josh Pearl Finds Success at Veteran Entrepreneur Training Symposium

Josh PearlWhile working at the IVMF, I was asked if I would go to Orlando, Florida, to support the Veteran Entrepreneur Training Symposium (VETS) 21. The annual event is hosted by the National Veteran Small Business Coalition (NVSBC).

The NVSBC is the largest non-profit trade association in the country representing veteran- and service-disabled veteran-owned small business (VOB and SDVOB) in the Federal marketplace. NVSBC works to ensure that veteran small businesses are given first consideration for federal prime and subcontract procurement opportunities.”

NVSBC engages regularly with Congress and Federal organizations to ensure these businesses are getting the help that they deserve.

VETS21 was held November 2-5, 2021, in Orlando. The event encouraged VOBs and SDVOBs to attend for reasons such as learning sessions focused on market intelligence and business strategy. For market intelligence, guests were able to experience market intel from “50+ government leaders across the VA, SBA, DoD, and 16 federal agencies.” For those wanting to strengthen their position for the upcoming year, attendees had the opportunity to communicate directly with government buyers and decision-makers. Every session that was held offered step-by-step tactics on how to accelerate business revenue.

Attendees also received business insights from keynote speakers including Tommy Moreno, co-founder & CEO of Pareto Labs, and Matt “Griff” Griffin, founder of Combat Flip Flops. A large part of the conference was dedicated to strategy sessions, where attendees had multiple opportunities to participate in small crash courses. Course topics included, “What do I really need to do? How much will it cost?”, “What you need to know for finding and winning low-hanging fruit,” and “Step-by-step advanced teaming strategies.” These are just a few of the many sessions available for participants to attend throughout the day.

O2O Graduate Completes Eight Courses in Six Months

Richard SantiagoRichard Santiago is originally from New Jersey and had been an Information Systems Technician for the United States Navy since 1999. Richard says he was inspired to get out of New Jersey and explore more about himself.

“College wasn’t an absolute for me. So, joining the Navy was the best option for me.”

After 22 years, he retired as an IT1/ E6 technician. After that, Richard got his Master of Science degree at Strayer University in Management Information Systems. At the time, Richard was exploring his interests. He took lots of workshops and the topics varied from forensic sciences to Linux operating systems. In 2021, Richard found Onward to Opportunity (O2O) from a presentation, so he decided to embrace another challenge.

In just six months with O2O, he took eight courses: CASP+, SSCP, Server+, CCNA, ITIL, Cloud+, Linux+ and PMP. He achieved certifications in PMP and CASP+. Because of the CASP+ is an IAT III certification, Richard was able to successfully navigate the job search with ease and has started his next career path as a Senior Systems Engineer.

Richard now lives in Virginia. He likes to go on road trips, hike, and study new languages. Talking about his experience in O2O, Richard says, “The CASP+ certification opened a lot of doors. And yes, getting that job was the result of going through O2O.”

O2O has offered countless sources and information to him. He got to understand hiring procedures and how to get through the interview process. He said the hardest part was matching the job’s requirements and tailoring his resume to the position. It was a new skill for him to gain, but he said it is useful for everyone once you acquire it.

In case you didn’t know, eligible veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses are matched with employer partners for interviews upon completion of the O2O program. This is one of the main benefits of the program so graduates like Richard can graduate from it with a meaningful career.

Chef Tiffany Moore

Chef Tiffany MooreChef Tiffany Moore is strong and resilient. She has needed to be – survival hasn’t come easy.

Moore always wanted to join the military. She earned the distinction of Ms. JROTC in high school and planned to join the service after college. But when her college plans became derailed, an Army recruiter was at her doorstep three weeks after high school graduation and Moore left for basic training a couple months later on September 5, 2001.

Initially wanting to be a cook in the service, Moore left basic training as an ammunition specialist. On deployment in Kuwait in 2004, Moore suffered a freak neck injury while moving a pallet. Over a period of a few years, the injury progressed from minor nuisance to pain and numbness in her hands. Doctors assumed carpal tunnel syndrome due to the increased time Moore was spending performing admin duties at a desk.

In 2011, in the middle of the night, Moore awoke to find that she was paralyzed from the neck down. “My mind was saying move, but my legs were not moving,” Moore recalled. The paralysis was temporary, lasting an hour before going away, but it would return a few times a year.

In October 2012, during Moore’s medical board process, the paralysis happened while on duty for the first time. She was put on emergency bed rest because her C4 and C5 vertabrae were touching her spinal cord and her spinal canal was compressed and blocking the flow of spinal fluid. Doctors informed her that something as simple as a sneeze or laugh could put her into permanent paralysis. Despite the grim outlook, Moore was finally feeling validated with her injuries after suffering with excruciating pain, numbness, and recurring paralysis for nearly eight years.

Read Moore’s Full Story

People Operations Manager at Instant Teams

Military Spouse, Diana Garcia Carvajal, received her PHR certification through a PCS move

Carvajal writes:

I was born and raised in Ecuador and came to the US when I was 15 years old. English became my second language when I was 15, definitely not an easy language to learn but it was not impossible, and I persevered. Early life experiences moving as a teenager from one country to another and not knowing the language was challenging but just like the movement of life as a military spouse, also rewarding.

I am currently an Active-Duty Army spouse and Mother of 4 amazing kids (3 boys & 1 girl) and full-time People Operations Manager at Instant Teams.

I’ve just recently PCS’d and it’s been amazing to keep my Onward to Opportunity (O2O) training on track between moves. We’ve relocated to Fort Irwin, CA which is such a small Army post with a huge heart and community.

My professional career started within the Education field progressing throughout the paths of Army MWR Child, Youth, and School Services careers. I started out as a Child and Youth Program Assistant, then Preschool Lead Teacher, then Teacher Assistant, and finally as an Assistant Director. Throughout those years, I always thought I wanted to be in the education field until I started working on my MBA. That is when I found my passion for Human Resources and People Operations. So then in 2019, I was hired to join the People Operations team at Instant Teams and have continued to dedicate my time in learning and developing myself as a People Operations professional.

When I heard about O2O through our teams at Instant Teams, I knew immediately that my next goal was to achieve the PHR certification. I loved that O2O offers an intensive course that helps you prepare for the exam. The program has been a fabulous balance of both compliance but also usable work practices in daily People Operations management. My top takeaway from the program? It is a self-paced program! It allows you to take notes and review the courses as needed and the library with a variety of resources to continue to prepare for the certification even after completing the required course has been really helpful.

I have been thrilled & thankful for the opportunity this program offers to military spouses for free. It is definitely a rewarding experience! Do it! Don’t think about it too much! Use your time wisely, take notes (I have 3 notebooks with notes from the course) and ensure to have dedicated time to complete the course.

Senior Network Security Analyst at United States Department of Defense

Oluwaseun Cole graduated from the online Onward to Opportunity program with a certification in CISSP.

Cole writes:

Oluwaseun Cole“I heard about IVMF during the TAP program, a program offered to military service members returning to civilian life, as I prepared to exit active-duty service in December 2019. I became an active Onward to Opportunity (O2O) participant after my application was approved in January 2020. I joined the January 2020 O2O online cohort where I was afforded a robust learning module that catered to every section of the CISSP free of charge. By February 2020, I completed all the modules related to the CISSP course and by September 2020 I completed the assessments and practice questions. Extensions had to be granted to all participants in my cohort causing a delay in paying for the exam — the delay was due to COVID’s initial stronghold across the globe which was particularly felt in New York (where my family was based).

IVMF also made the learning portal available to me to study other certification coursework I might be interested in after I completed the CISSP coursework. I scheduled my CISSP exam free of charge – thanks to the IVMF – on September 29, 2020, and I scheduled my exam appointment for January 29, 2021. Due to relocation, and other personal issues (which of course includes the COVID pandemic) I was unable to take the exam in January and I had reached out to ISC2, which is the authority that administers the CISSP exam, for an extension which was immediately granted. I was able to reschedule the exam for August 19, 2021. I passed the exam on first try and began my endorsement process with ISC2. I was fully endorsed by ISC2 as CISSP on September 16, 2021.

The IVMF program is the reason I am CISSP-certified. Without the resources they provided in preparing for the class and paying for the exam, I may not have achieved this enormous feat. Although I am Security +, GCIH, GCFA, CCNA, and PMP certified, the CISSP is my most important certification to me as I now work as a Senior Network Security Analyst with the U.S. Department of Defense. I cannot remember the name of the TAP counselor that told me about the IVMF O2O program, but I can certainly remember his face (he works at JBSA Lackland/Fort Sam Houston). I appreciate him! I also hope to give back to IVMF in one capacity or the other.”

Rocket Engine Assembly and Manufacturing, Blue Origin

Lekendric Doyle graduated from Navy Region Northwest’s Onward to Opportunity program with a PMP certificate.

Doyle writes:

Lekendric doyleThe Onward to Opportunity program through IVMF was an excellent experience. From orientation and networking to exam preparation, Ben Dufay helped me maximize my learning success in achieving my Project Management Professional certification and prepare for transitioning into civilian life. I highly recommend any service member take advantage of the Onward to Opportunity program!

As a Chicago native, I dedicated myself to lifelong learning at a young age. My humble beginnings were wrought with investigative disassembly of electronics, such as the family VCR, which quickly led to me being coined the family mad scientist. Recognizing my potential at a young age, my mother and father always encouraged me to chase my dreams and pursue greater knowledge. After graduating from the Steinmentz International Baccalaureate Program, I attended Milwaukee School of Engineering, studying mechanical engineering with a heavy focus on physics and thermodynamics. During my studies I became fascinated with quantum theory and particle physics, which led me to pursue a career as a nuclear operator in the United States Navy. After graduating at the top of my class in the Naval Nuclear Power Training pipeline, I was then selected as an instructor to train the next generation on nuclear operators. After a successful instructor tour, I went on to serve on USS Henry M. Jackson, USS Bremerton, and USS Jacksonville where I completed Engineering supervisor Qualifications and served as the Assistant Quality Assurance officer. Continuing to strive for excellence, I was selected as the Squadron-19 Sailor of the Year.

My decade of service on several submarines has given me a wealth of experience and exposure to interesting individuals that has enriched my life. My close friend, the excellent YNC Shawn Daniel once told me that, “Your path to success is only blocked by you. You must first get out of your own way to realize your goals and aspirations”. Taking this wisdom to heart, I began seeking professional development programs that aided veterans in transitioning to civilian life. After accessing the DOD Skillbridge website, I discovered the Pacific Northwest Onward to Opportunity through IVMF.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic imposed restrictions on several of the other veteran transition programs, IVMF offered a significant sampling of its courses in convenient virtual or hybrid format. As the program manager and mentor, Benjamin Dufay ensured that my pathway to certification was painless, often dedicating time to hold in person training seminars and answering many of my questions. The mentorship and knowledge I gained through IVMF directly contributed to my successful transition into the civilian world.

Shortly After achieving my PMP certification through Onward to Opportunity, I completed my undergraduate degree and accepted a management position in the Engines manufacturing department at Blue Origin. I owe a great deal of thanks to Ben and Onward to Opportunity for helping me achieve these prestigious milestones in my career. As an O2O alumni I plan to pursue my agile practitioner certification while continuing to help build the road to millions of people living and working in space. Thank you to all of the influential people that helped me reach this point and I hope that all veterans strive to achieve greater success through O2O.

Co-Founded Premier Enterprise Solutions, LLC

Jackie LopezJacqueline “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.

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.

Read her full story

Contractor Installation Manager | Transition Assistance Program (TAP)

Cynethia Mahone graduated from Fort Bragg’s Onward to Opportunity program with a PMP certificate to better serve those in her position as Contract Installation Manager . 

Cynethia writes:

Cynethia MahoneIn June 2018, my husband and our family PCS’d to Fort Bragg, NC where I accepted a position as a Fort Bragg Transition Assistance Program (TAP) Transition Counselor. At that time, Mr. Kenneth Mayes, the previous Fort Bragg Installation Program Manager at IVMF, briefed all of the Fort Bragg TAP staff on the many opportunities that IVMF’s Onward to Opportunity (O2O) program had available for transitioning military, veterans and their spouses. That day, I vowed that I would one day take advantage of the program.

I was promoted to the Fort Bragg TAP Contractor Installation Manager position in September 2020. My husband transitioned out of the military and I signed up for the Fort Bragg O2O Cohort 17. More often than not, many impediments and blockers are placed before transitioning military service members and their families. O2O provided an opportunity during a stressful time of transition that I would not have been afforded if it were not for the sacrifice that my husband made during his time in service.

There was no better way to keep the vow I made to myself and set an example for the local transition military community than to pursue the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. One cannot advocate for service members and their families to utilize the many transition benefits afforded to them, if one does not utilize them as well. That is why I pursued the PMP certification.

Obtaining this high-level certification did not only re-affirm my project leadership experience, but it exhibited to everyone within the military transition community that your transition is what you make of it.

O2O provided an astounding free career training program that led to my ability to successfully obtain a professional certification. The access to training, flexible learning pathways and excellent support provided by the Fort Bragg Installation program representatives (Mr. Kenneth Mayes and Mrs. Alicia Mock) were all factors that led to my success.

I will continue to be a leader and advocate within the military transition community. If you put in the time, effort and utilize the resources, transition will be what you make of it.

Vice President, TIME Systems, LLC

Rachel BellamyRachel Bellamy comes from a family with a storied history of military service. A fourth-generation veteran, Rachel graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served five years with the U.S. Army in the Adjutant General’s Corps.

Military service is important to Bellamy, but she knew she wanted to become a business owner. She met her husband Lonnie Bellamy while both were serving in the U.S. Army, bonding over a common past of being Army brats, both being fourth-generation service members, and a mutual desire to become entrepreneurs – Rachel in leadership consulting and Lonnie in IT consulting.

Rachel’s father-in-law owned a government contracting business and asked Rachel and Lonnie to help out while the business grew. This gave them a unique opportunity to learn the ins-and-outs of business ownership and government contracting, both of which would be part of Bellamy’s future business, TIME Systems, LLC.

When Lonnie finished his master’s degree at The George Washington University, they knew it was time to launch TIME Systems and create a business that focused on their passions, Technology, Innovation, Management (Leadership) and Engineering.  To balance the financial risk of entrepreneurship, Rachel served in the federal government for ten years and moonlighted in the business after hours, but more was needed.

Read Rachel’s Full Story

NATO Policy Specialist at C6F, Naples, Italy

The following is from Thomas Braden:

Thomas BradenI was fortunate enough to participate in IVMF’s Onward to Opportunity (O2O) program prior to retiring after 27 years in the Navy and it really prepared me for ‘what’s next?!’ In particular, I studied the Human Resources track and prepared for the SHRM exam. Life got in the way, and I never managed to take the exam, as I retired and followed my wife to Jakarta, Indonesia three days later.

Well, three months later, I was hired by USAID as their Human Resources Advisor to assist them in creating and launching a new pay and personnel evaluation system for their local staff.

Without my time at O2O, I would not have been ready to do so!

Sadly, COVID had us evacuated 18 months into our three-year tour, and I found myself unemployed and pursuing a new job with the federal government. While the hiring process languished for almost a year, I again relied upon my Boots to Business entrepreneurship and O2O training and decided to write a book to teach others how to better navigate the GS system!

I am now employed at Naval Forces Europe and Africa and I’m passionate about continuing to help others as they transition from Active Duty to Government Service!

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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