When we announced last week that the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF) has formally partnered with the US Business Leadership Network (USBLN®) with the focus on service-disabled veterans in employment and entrepreneurship, it was a welcome milestone. Our organizations have worked on parallel paths for many years in relation to employment, small business ownership, and disability. This partnership now advances both joint and individual initiatives undertaken by both the IVMF and the USBLN® during the past several years, beginning a formal program of collaboration to benefit business and industry who seek well-qualified employees and suppliers, and service-disabled veteran employees and business owners.
My good friend and colleague Jill Houghton, USBLN® executive director, when announcing our partnership, clearly articulated that “service-disabled veteran-owned businesses have opportunities to become certified diversity suppliers and to work with private industry to meet their needs for products and services. USBLN®’s supplier diversity certification is complementary to those of other diversity suppliers, and offers a rigorous evaluation process to certify disability-owned businesses. Certified businesses gain access to networks of corporate and government procurement professionals, and these buyers gain a reliable source for certified suppliers capable of addressing supply chain product and service requirements.”
These goals are business goals; to create networks of suppliers that can meet the needs of business and industry while promoting and contributing to local and national economies. A side benefit is usually the ability to tout such efforts in corporate social responsibility reports, which also have benefits to business and industry while creating opportunity for traditionally underrepresented populations.
At the IVMF, we’ve long known the advantages veterans bring to entrepreneurship. Veterans start businesses at twice the rate of non-veterans, and sustain them for longer than their non-veteran counterparts. Veteran status is the number one predictor of small business startup. For wounded warriors, business ownership may provide even more important benefits, including the ability to address career change and life changes.
As I said in our announcement, “The IVMF’s education and technical assistance programs for entrepreneurs have educated over 500 veterans with disabilities.” In addition, there are another 60 family members of wounded and/or deceased veterans who have completed our education programs at Syracuse University and Florida State University, and more than 500 women veterans (many with hidden or undisclosed disabilities) who have done the same through our Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) national conferences. These veterans contribute to their local economies by starting and running businesses, hiring employees, and importantly, hiring other wounded veterans. They are already supplying government, business, and industry.
Providing opportunity to become a certified diversity supplier gives another avenue for our vetrepreneurs to reach their markets, and is an important component of our collaboration. Partnering with the USBLN® provides improved access to opportunities and decreases barriers to both employment and entrepreneurship for the veteran and service-disabled veteran community. The partnership also creates opportunities for many peer businesses to share lessons learned from robust programs of hiring veterans and buying from veteran suppliers.
“The partnership between USBLN® and the IVMF will increase knowledge and information flow between veterans, business and industry, government, and other stakeholders, and will improve opportunities for service-disabled veterans as employees and as business owners, and provide access to both for our membership,” said Houghton in our official partnership announcement. “It supports our vision which ‘promotes the certification and growth of disability-owned business.’”
At the IVMF we couldn’t agree more. Our mission and vision supports service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSB) as a means of reintegrating our veterans back into civilian life, enabling them to have meaningful careers and support their families.
My first exposure to supplier diversity came when I wrote, “Disability as Diversity in Fortune 100 Companies” with colleagues at the Law, Health Policy & Disability Center at the University of Iowa in 2005. While conducting research and working with my co-authors, I saw another avenue for traditionally under-represented populations to create opportunities. When I moved into the veterans’ space and worked with veteran entrepreneurs, it became a natural objective to focus on creating opportunities for them to become suppliers. Importantly, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a program to certify SDVOSB suppliers for VA contracts and other government set asides. The USBLN®’s program addresses similar needs in the private sector. Deciding on the right markets is a function of the entrepreneur’s business goals and objectives (and we address this in our entrepreneurship programs). If our veteran entrepreneurs want to supply private business and industry, this certification program may be an excellent path to pursue.
The IVMF’s focus on veterans, and service-disabled veterans, naturally aligns with the goals and objectives of the USBLN® in this area. The institute’s recently published “Guide to Leading Policies, Practices & Resources: Supporting the Employment of Veterans and Military Families” and the National Council on Disabilities’ “Empowerment for Americans with Disabilities: Breaking Barriers to Careers and Full Employment” report, for which I was project director, both form frameworks for engaging business and industry and preparing veterans for employment. The overlap of companies which supported these reports, and which support the IVMF, USBLN®, or both, is an indicator that progressive, forward thinking companies do all they can to find and support talent, to advance their businesses, and to contribute to a robust entrepreneurial and employment ecosystem.
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