Vetrepreneurs

By Olivia Bitetti

When considering the moxie that a person must possess in order to be an excellent military service member – a desire for high achievement, a comfortability with autonomy, and the ability to maintain a composed attitude and make decisions in the face of uncertainty – it seems only natural that veterans translate these service-related skills into starting or growing their own business and becoming successful “vetrepreneurs”. 

V-WISE, or Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, provides the community of women vets with the tools and knowledge needed to pave an entrepreneurial path forward for themselves and their family. This female-only, three-phase program was created by Dr. Mike Haynie, Barnes Professor of Entrepreneurship at Syracuse University and a veteran of the US Air Force. V-WISE is offered by the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University and operated by SU’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). It is open to women veterans of all eras and any service branch, along with female military spouses and partners.

“The first V-WISE conference was an incredible experience. The energy was so high, and [female veterans] were really motivated to learn. It was obvious to our team that there was a need for this program,” Tina M. Kapral, Director of Education Programs at IVMF, said. V-WISE held its inaugural conference, the second phase in the program, in San Antonio, TX in May 2011.

V-WISE visited three cities across the country in 2012 and has four more cities planned for 2013. Jacksonville will be host to the next V-WISE conference, held on Jan. 10 through 12, with Chicago, Seattle and Denver to follow.

Kapral’s unwavering passion for the V-WISE program stems from her desire to help veterans transition successfully out of the military and more specifically to serve the needs of women veterans aspiring to become successful business owners.

“One of the challenges that I think that all women face is [finding] work-life balance. When female veterans come home they don’t always have the same support systems in place that male veterans may have. [Male veterans] come home and may depend on their wife, mother or family,” Kapral said. “When a female veteran comes home, she is supposed to jump right back into typical family responsibilities and balance that with finding a job.”

In order to turn that jump into a smooth and graceful leap, V-WISE helps its participants at any stage in the business-owning process by providing education and the proper tools to help women make their dreams a reality.

Cost for the program is a $75 registration fee, and applicants must provide their own transportation to and from the conference. Each conference has up to 200 seats, and every woman is provided with her own hotel room, food, and books at the conference at no additional cost.

“Our goal is to educate female veterans on how to start or grow their business, but also to pamper them, make them feel appreciated and thank them for their service,” Kapral said. “We want them to have an experience that is of an executive level quality but also inspirational, motivating and educational.”

The first phase of the V-WISE program is a 15-day online course where the women will learn the basic skills of entrepreneurship and the language of business. Phase two is a three-day conference at which the women can network and participate in classes that will further develop their business-savvy skills as well as be exposed to successful entrepreneurs.

Conference offerings like Office Hours/Ask an Expert, the students can talk with successful entrepreneurs and business educators from across the United States. The final day of the conference culminates with a proper graduation photograph.

“Every city has been very emotional. There are tears of joy at graduation,” Kapral said. “There have been a few times when I’m hugging a student good bye, and wishing them well in their new venture and they will ask me, ‘How can I thank you?” And I tell them to just ‘Go out there and do it, be successful, that’s how you can thank me.’ That’s all I need.”

Phase three delivers a comprehensive listing of community-level support. An official graduation certificate, photo and resources will be sent to the graduates. Students can also receive 2.7 continuing education credits. Kapral explained that once the program is over and the women return to their respective cities, having support is particularly important. V-WISE never closes the doors to its graduates.

To date, 514 female vets have graduated from the V-WISE program. With the help of corporate sponsors, the program hopes to continue to teach, train, and inspire female veteran entrepreneurs across the U.S. for many years to come.

For more information on the program or to apply to V-WISE, visit whitman.syr.edu/vwise.

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