This year brought unprecedented challenges to startups, and those founded by military veterans were no exception. To discuss how military-community entrepreneurs can adapt to new environment created by the pandemic, GEN and Hello Alice organized a town hall.
Moderated by Hello Alice co-founder Elizabeth Gore, who is the daughter of an Air Force veteran, the hour long question and answer session featured a panel that included Charlynda Scales, the founder and CEO of Mutt’s Sauce and a 10-year Air Force veteran, Sabrina Wojtewicz, the Director of Partnership at Bunker Labs, a non-profit organization operating in 23 cities that seeks to “inspire, equip and connect military veterans with the resources they need,” and Keith Shoates, the Vice President of Vista Equity Partners and a former Air Force intelligence officer.
The State of Military Entrepreneurship Town Hall is an official activity of Global Entrepreneurship Week, an international movement coordinated by the GEN to empower entrepreneurs and help make it possible for anyone, anywhere to start and scale a business.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Scales, who had a just given birth, was faced with the cancelation all the revenue-producing events her company had planned.
“So I had to start over,” she said, “. . . and use those military resources and things you learned on active duty.” She pivoted to e-commerce, which required adapting her business to her customers, who were making purchases from home.
Shoates says that as his firm’s portfolio companies were confronted with the new reality they focused on providing tutoring and mentoring. They also helped their companies that qualified to become certified as veteran-owned, which many larger businesses take into account when making procurement and supply chain contracting decisions. Wojtewicz underscored the benefits but added that “the certification process is time consuming, so it’s best to anticipate it before you need it and get the process going.” She also emphasized the importance of mentors and advisors.
Shoates added that – no matter how small the company – “it’s very helpful to have a group of advisors who can provide different kinds of expertise, like a kitchen cabinet.” Scales advised against looking for like-minded people, she said it’s far better to “look for like-hearted people, people who share your mission and values but are not afraid to tell the founder that they’re headed in the wrong direction.”