It's Time to Turn Up the Volume on Women Veteran-Owned Businesses

1 Oct 2019

Military.com | By VR Small

VR Small is a Navy veteran, founder and executive director for the Veteran Women's Enterprise Center (VWEC).

Veteran-owned businesses are getting a lot of attention these days. But a subgroup of veteran entrepreneurs must contend with misaligned resources, a side effect of stereotypes in the general public about what it means to be a veteran.

With six women veterans in office on Capitol Hill, efforts are finally being made to bring long-overdue women veteran issues to the forefront. The creation of the Servicewomen and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus and the launch of the House Veteran Affairs Committee's new Women Veterans Task Force are a start at bringing these issues into focus.

But women veteran-owned businesses remain in the shadows. The problem is seen in the statistics. Women veteran-owned businesses (WVOBs) made up 15.2% of all veteran-owned businesses in 2015, according to Census Bureau statistics. About 97% of those businesses have no employees, but the 3% that do employ more than 100,000 workers and reported over $10 billion in receipts over a five-year reporting period.

That data, says the National Women’s Business Council, shows that growth in the sector is happening, but is only a fraction of what it could be.

"If veteran women-owned employer firms generated receipts proportional to their share of veteran-owned employer firms (3.3 percent), these firms would have receipts that stood at about $29.3 billion," the National Women's Business Council said in a 2017 report based on the Census Bureau's Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs. The council further found that for every dollar a male veteran makes in his business, a female veteran makes just $.07 in hers.

Why? One reason could be that resources available from various business-focused organizations and federal agencies often don't meet the immediate needs of WVOBs. Service types and locations are often not designed specifically with women in mind. And many agencies seem unwilling or unable to effectively and regularly engage WVOBs in developing the social and financial capital necessary to scale their businesses.

When we fail to effectively engage WVOBs, we lose the added value to our society of this highly diverse population that represents nearly every ethnicity, race, gender orientation and age group.

Statistics also suggest that support for WVOBs impacts more than just the business owner and their employees. According to statistics from Refinery29 and Chase, women in general are the primary breadwinners in 40% of households. This suggests that supporting women-owned business growth and self-sufficiency will ultimately help build stronger families, support thriving communities and add fuel to our nation's economy.

The time is now to turn up the volume so we can hear and respond more effectively to the often silent voices of female veterans.

These military women are trained to accomplish the mission using whatever resources are available, and they will rarely be the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. Instead, most will struggle in silence, never being given the opportunity to articulate what they truly need to succeed. And because many female veterans don't self-identify, the local business community assumes that women veteran-owned businesses represent a limited population. But that is yet to be proven.

There is a movement in the right direction. For example, one project taking on the charge of strengthening the voices of WVOBs is the Veteran Women's Enterprise Center (VWEC)'s "Moments that Matter" research project, in collaboration with the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank.

The Moments that Matter local survey focuses exclusively on engaging women veteran-owned businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. WVOBs in all 13 counties are encouraged to turn up the volume and let their voices be heard by taking the survey.

While several surveys have been conducted for veteran-owned businesses in general, this local survey is designed to capture data that will clearly define transitional moments in these WVOBs' entrepreneur journey. That, in turn, will help identify and connect them to the resources they need to effectively scale their businesses. Those steps will ultimately help them build a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports consistent access to essential social and financial capital.

The survey is also the VWEC's pilot project for the development of a regional and national tool that can be used to provide an annual report on the status of women veteran-owned businesses, keeping the volume up and tuned into their ongoing challenges and successes.

When we consider funding support to and for our veteran communities, we should consider women veteran-owned businesses' silent contributions as a potential gold mine, and it often pays to dig deeper, and invest more, if you really want to strike gold.

And as we work toward equality for all women, we must ensure that equity is instituted across the board. To effectively acknowledge and engage this group, we have to change the narrative.

When we say "veteran," we need to immediately envision men and women who have faithfully served our nation.

-- The opinions expressed in this op-ed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Military.com. If you would like to submit your own commentary, please send your article to opinions@military.com for

Survey hopes to set the record straight when it comes to female veteran business owners


Are you a female veteran business owner in Dallas, Texas? This survey wants to know about your needs — so it can help female veterans everywhere succeed. 

The Veteran Women's Enterprise Center — an organization that helps women veteran-owned businesses (WVOBs) scale, strategize, and succeed — is hosting a survey called "Moments that Matter" in partnership with the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank to examine the entrepreneur journey of WVOBs in Dallas. VWEC hopes the results of the survey will help WVOBs everywhere to be better understood and supported. 

And that's no longer a small population. A 2007 to 2012 Census Bureau survey of business owners found that WVOBs had grown from 4 percent of all veteran-owned businesses to 15.2 percent — nearly 400,000 new businesses. 

"It's not a Dallas thing," said VR Small, the founder and executive director of the VWEC. "It's something that we feel — based on the number of women veterans across our nation who are starting businesses — that this is something that women need across the nation and are looking for. Women veterans don't self-identify. We need to give them a voice."

When Small returned to the Dallas area, she found little to no established support for female veteran entrepreneurs there. 

"We didn't even have a women's business center in the city of Dallas at that time," Small said. "All the programs I reached out to who said they helped veterans proclaimed they didn't have anyone in Dallas who could support me. We wanted to meet their needs and give them a place where they could come and have camaraderie, connect."

Small worked to establish VWEC in the area and is now looking to do more for both Dallas-based and national WVOBs with the "Moments that Matter" survey. 

"The survey is really in-depth. It really digs deep. And we designed it that way because we really want to try to make this a regional and eventually a national tool that not just my organization can use but any organization that wants to know what's going on with women veterans. They can access this tool and use it," Small said. 

The results of the survey will help the general population to understand the unique needs of WVOBs. Eventually, the results will be used to create an annual report on the status of WVOBs, "keeping the volume up and tuned into their ongoing challenges and successes," Small explained But it will only succeed if enough female veteran business owners participate in the survey. 

"If they don't take the survey, then the assumptions will continue — assumptions that we don't really exist, that there isn't really a business here," Small said. "They'll go on and on with all these assumptions that really hurt female veteran business owners."

WVOBs in the Dallas area can access the survey through the VWEC website or the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank website to participate. 

Calling All Women Veteran-Owned Businesses in Dallas County

Calling All Women-Veteran-Owned Businesses in Dallas County - Take the survey!

Businesses owned by women veterans grew from 4 percent of all veteran-owned businesses to more than 15 percent between 2007 and 2012 and more than 383,000 as of 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners. The businesses without employees had receipts of $7.1 billion, while those with employees had receipts in excess of $10.7 billion and a total workforce of more than 100,000. Even so, this group of women business owners has not received much attention.

In 2015, the National Women’s Business Council issued a recommendation that more programs are needed to engage women-veteran business owners. This recommendation was echoed by the Small Business Administration’s Advisory Council on Veteran Business Affairs—specifically noting that more local research is needed to assess the needs of women-veteran entrepreneurs and design relevant programs to support this population. For Dallas County, it is an opportunity to support a thriving entrepreneurial community and learn how to effectively engage and support these businesses.

The Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center (VWEC), a national initiative launched in southern Dallas, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas are currently conducting research exclusively focused on the “Moments That Matter” for businesses owned by veteran women in Dallas County. With a focus on identifying the most impactful issues and situations encountered by these businesses, the primary goals of the project are to:

  • Determine whether the experiences of Dallas County’s women veteran-owned businesses are comparable to those of women-veteran entrepreneurs nationally.

  • Highlight the “Moments That Matter” during start-up, growth and expansion efforts.

  • Identify gaps in support services for women-veteran entrepreneurs.

The data-gathering process of this project is twofold, beginning with an online survey to collect basic information on the women and their businesses and concluding with a series of focus groups to capture their unique stories of business successes and challenges. Once the data are collected, the Dallas Fed and VWEC will produce a report that illustrates the state of women-veteran-owned businesses in Dallas County.

How can you support this effort?

1) Women-veteran-owned businesses: Take the survey, sign up for a focus group and share this information with your network.

2) Community partners: We invite chambers, certification agencies, business-support and veteran-services organizations to help identify and engage women-veteran-owned businesses by sharing a unique partner link via their communications vehicles (newsletters, emails, website, social media, etc.) In turn, we will provide partners with the opportunity to host their own focus group sessions and/or receive tailored data reports reflecting the responses of women-veteran business owners in their organizations.

3) All others: If you know of an organization that would be a good fit to support this research project, please share this information, email VWEC Executive Director VR Small at veteranwomensec@gmail.com or call 214-489-7984.