In two weeks, a group of women entrepreneurs – many of whom teamed up to fight for their country – will gather to participate in a more civil battle against one another. They will have the honor of being the first participants in a business pitch competition and conference for new business owners in McLean, Va., at the end of April.

This is a major event on the calender of the fledgling Women Veterans Entrepreneur Corps (WVEC), an organization whose mission is to help female veterans-turned-business-owners get the mentoring and guidance they need to make their start-ups a success. The McLean conference, to be held at the Capital One Conference Center, will be a confluence of new entrepreneurs and leading national figures in government contracting, financing, marketing and social media, and work/life balance. And while the competition for seed money among those in the business pitch contest will be center stage, the most important aspect according to organizers is the opportunity to network and learn from the conference’s star business speakers and other established, successful women entrepreneurs. Thus, the very reason for the WVEC’s existence will be also be front and center.

The WVEC was started six months ago as a partnership of the non-profit Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence and Capital One Financial Corporation. Capital One committed $800,000 to get the project started. Count Me In founder and President Nell Merlino told NBC News in a prepared statement that while the drive and commitment was there among women vets who started their own businesses, the nuts-and-bolts know-how was often missing.

“The energy and motivation that women veterans bring to their business ventures is unmatched, and we are very excited to use our experience helping women reach their entrepreneurial potential to help this important — and growing — group of new entrepreneurs,” Merlino said.

A willing market for the organization appears to be in place. NBC News reported that since 9/11, female veterans, the fastest growing ex-military demographic after the elderly, have faced a 20 percent unemployment rate, according to labor statistics. And even though the lack of a job has been temporary for most women vets, an increasing number are finding a solution to job security in self-employment. They are also finding a certain amount of satisfaction.

According to a recent study by Count Me In and Capital One also reported by NBC, more than half of the 800 female veterans who are start-up owners said the leadership skills acquired in the military gave them the confidence they needed to go into business for themselves. But almost half of them revealed they had no short-term business plan, and more than a quarter of them said learning to attract and keep customers was their greatest need. The WVEC will attempt to start filling in those knowledge gaps at the McLean conference.


Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps

Briggs, Bill. “New program aims to help female veterans-turned-entrepreneurs“, NBC News, 10/24/12.