Association aids businesses owned by military veterans
By Allison Bruce
Veteran and military business owners have a new organization to help support their businesses, land contracts and interaction with other owners.
Started in July, the Veteran and Military Business Owners Association, or VAMBOA, is the creation of two local women business owners who saw a need.
“People from the military have wonderful qualities that lend themselves to entrepreneurship,” said Debbie Gregory, one of the co-chairs and founders of the association. She said veterans and active military personnel who own businesses needed an organization that could help them get information, collaborate with each other, and grow through connections with government agencies and private businesses that want to use their goods and services.
There were 2.4 million veterans who owned businesses in the United States in 2007, the Census Bureau reports. Those businesses had receipts totaling $1.2 trillion. California had 9.8 percent of the nation's veteran-owned businesses.
The association already has several thousand members across the nation. Gregory said it has started a survey to determine member needs and desires for the organization.
The nonprofit association doesn't charge any dues and relies on corporate sponsors. Its first sponsor is Thousand Oaks-based Amgen Inc.
“We have a tough economy going on, and those who have served our nation, more than anyone, have made a lot of sacrifices and they deserve to have help,” Gregory said. She hopes the sponsor-supported model will continue as the association grows.
Martha Daniel is a disabled veteran who owns Aliso Viejo-based IMRI, which provides technology and engineering services to the private industry and government.
Daniel was excited to join a trade association for veterans. Many veteran organizations are centered around policies and issues, but there hasn't been a business association that could provide resources, from training and certifications to networking with other veteran business owners, she said.
“I'm hoping VAMBOA will be an umbrella by which we can keep veterans knowledgeable about everything going on,” she said.
Veteran-owned businesses have been around for years — Daniel's is about 18 years old — but she said there is a new emphasis on supporting those businesses that is encouraging more veterans to become entrepreneurs. President Barack Obama signed an executive order in April creating a task force on veteran-owned small businesses that will look at lending, contracts, training and other support.
VAMBOA connects both new and existing veteran business owners. “We ourselves need to connect and help each other,” Daniel said.
Gregory is chief executive of Military Connection, headquartered in Simi Valley, a website she started that provides an online directory of resources and information for members of the military, veterans and their families.
Gregory said one reason she recently turned down a buyer for Military Connection was that she wanted to use the site, which has 10,000 visitors daily, to help launch VAMBOA.
She joined with Patty DeDominic, a consultant in Santa Barbara and former national president of the National Association of Women Business Owners. DeDominic had a staffing company she built and sold to a large company, and she has experience helping an organization provide resources and advocate for business owners.
Both DeDominic and Gregory are daughters of veterans. “We're very dedicated to this,” Gregory said.