Women Veterans Encouraged To Hone Their Business Savvy

By Hugh Lessig
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Seda Goff, director of veteran entrepreneurship at PenFed Credit Union says that during the past decade, growth in women veteran-founded businesses has skyrocketed 295 percent.

Newport News, Va.

The sixth annual Virginia Women Veterans Summit drew more than 1,000 people to Hampton Thursday, including a few budding entrepreneurs.

Encouraging business-savvy women veterans to transform good ideas into profits is a main theme at the two-day summit, which concludes Friday at the Hampton Convention Center.

“We see it as an opportunity for women veterans,” said John Newby, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services. “They’re already their own bosses in many aspects of their lives. When they leave the military, they don’t want to go into another organization that’s telling them what to do.”

Headlining the day: a competition among four veterans to see who could make the best pitch for their business in front of the crowd.

It wasn’t just for fun: they all came away with at least $1,000, courtesy of donors.

Suzie Mills of Honest Soul Yoga took home the top prize of $5,000. The Northern Virginia businesswoman said she came to yoga for personal and physical restoration after serving in the Air Force.

She started teaching yoga in her basement, opting for a simpler format than myriad classes and approaches already available.

“You get to choose based on what you’re feeling that day, not your skill level,” she said.

Second place went to Tammy Phipps, also of Northern Virginia, who in 2008 founded Driver Rehab Center of Excellence. It provides rehab services and installation of equipment so disabled people can return to driving. She received $2,500.

Chelsea Mandello runs Troopster, a Norfolk-based effort that addresses an age-old challenge for military families and friends: how to send care packages to far-flung locations.

Using Troopster’s online service, people can send a personalized package directly to a loved one on deployment. Judges awarded her $1,500.

Aesop Technologies of Norfolk specializes in next-generation solar-powered technology. Its current focus is called Aesop Nucleus, a miniature solar concentration system meant replace portable power generators and, eventually, commercial solar panels.

Founder and CEO Nisha Witt received $1,000.

Growing trend
Growth in women-founded businesses has increased 45 percent in the last decade, said Seda Goff, director of veteran entrepreneurship at PenFed Credit Union in McClean. Growth in women veteran-founded businesses has skyrocketed 295 percent during that same time.

The downside: Since 2016, women entrepreneuers have received only 2 percent of all investment capital. The biggest barriers for women who want to start a business, besides money, are lack of mentors and a supportive environment.

Those mentors weren’t far away, according to Newby.

“We have several folks here who are business owners already who have volunteered to be mentors,” he said.

Gov Ralph Northam presented awards to the four pitch contestants and said he was “fascinated” by their presentations.

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