By Si Cantwell Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.
Elizabeth Boardman was hiking with a friend when they came up with an idea. Both were wives of service members and both were entrepreneurs.
"Wouldn't it be great to start an event to help military spouses?" they thought.
The result was Embark, a conference held once a year to support military spouses who start and run their own businesses, and the Milspo Project, the nonprofit organization that supports the conference and other initiatives.
Resources available to Milspo members include access to a network of legal professionals who help military families, educational opportunities, advice on marketing and branding, referrals to useful books and websites, and events such as Embark.
Last year's Embark conference, the second one, was held in Southern Pines and the 2016 event will be in Norfolk, Va. They take place in September.
Boardman's business is called Southern SloMo Party (www.southernslomoparty.com), popular at weddings. It offered a photo-booth type experience, only with slow-motion video.
"We'd tell people it's a slow-motion booth so they got in and started going sloooww," she said. "We'd say, 'No, no!'"
A journalism major from Missoula, Mont., she moved around a lot with her husband, Jeff Boardman, a Navy corpsman now working with the Marines at Camp Lejeune.
"We moved seven times in five years," she said. "I'm hoping to call Wilmington home."
She got her real estate license in April and is a residential real estate agent with Lanier Property Group.
The local Milspo chapter of about 15 women meets in Hampstead about once a month.
Nationally, Milspo has some male members, but she said the majority of military spouses are women.
Its mission is to empower and educate spouses who are business owners.
"So many military spouses are business owners," Boardman said. "Nobody celebrates the fact that we're business owners, nobody celebrates our situation."
She believes the frequent moves of military spouses lead many to start their own businesses.
"We move a lot, and we have to start over with a company," she said. "We're well-educated, but we have to work in entry-level positions. Some say, 'I'm worth more than that.'"
They bring skill sets they've developed at different jobs to their own businesses.
She and her co-founder Nicole Hope -- her hiking partner -- have been a team since the inception of Milspo.
Boardman, 27, said she thinks more wives are becoming entrepreneurs now than in decades past.
"The face of the military spouse is changing," she said. "It used to be frowned upon to have a job."
She said the military community is more accepting of working spouses now.
The military spouse community is made up of "gracious and giving people," she said. "They're strong and they're brave and they take risks and they're so generous."
What: Co-founder of the Milspo Project, which provides support to military spouses who start their own businesses.
Why: "I was complaining about not being able to find work, I was a victim of circumstance," she said. "Then I said, 'I shouldn't expect somebody else to do something about it,' so I just did it." How to help: Learn more at www.themilspoproject.com. The organization is looking for sponsors to fund events and services.
Contact Boardman at 406-529-5900 or email [email protected] Coming soon