Women Veterans Are Starting More and More STEM Businesses: Here Are the Resources They Need
Today, women veterans comprise 17 percent of the post-9/11 veteran population and are the fastest-growing sub-population of the veteran community, according to data from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF).
These veterans are also increasingly starting and growing businesses, even in the previously male-dominated STEM (science, technology, engineer, mathematics) fields. In fact, women veterans are twice as likely to pursue STEM-related occupations as their civilian counterparts.
IVMF research we've collaborated on also shows that high-performing entrepreneurs tend to demonstrate solid decision-making and high levels of confidence, independence and high self-efficacy, even within chaotic environments. Considering their military service background and exposure to multiple, often dangerous environments, veterans are well known to possess these skills.
Still, veteran entrepreneurs encounter challenges. In an IVMF/Syracuse University study, over 83 percent of women veterans surveyed cited obstacles in starting their own businesses, some unique to their status as veterans. That's why taking advantage of the right resources can help them overcome barriers. Those resources include:
Funding from non-traditional sources
Research from the National Women's Business Council (NWBC) has generally shown that women, both historically and in the present, experience challenges in accessing capital -- especially in STEM fields, even if those seeking an investment aren't asking for as much funding as their male counterparts. This often leads to insufficient capital for female-owned businesses. Further NWBC data points to the fact that women-owned businesses raise smaller amounts and rely on personal funds, as opposed to external networks, as a primary source of financing.
Takeway: It's critical that women veteran entrepreneurs educate themselves on what is available beyond bank loans. Group funding or crowd-source platforms like GoFundMe can be transformational for businesses in the earliest stages. Additional nontraditional sources of capital can also help kickstart a venture: These include business-plan competitions and community fund development initiatives .
While those approaches are appropriate for businesses in their infancy, they can also propel an entrepreneur to the next phase of growth, since banks are more likely to fund companies possessing initial capital.
Another challenge that military-connected women pursing STEM-based entrepreneurship reporting face is access to a supportive network of peers and mentors. While this is challenge to many business owners, those in STEM industries who are also female veterans are a subgroup, and as such, often lack a network. Research reported in Small Business Economics has shown that compared to male networks in these fields, networks for women lack essential ties to many resources, including financial capital.
Further, women in the above report said that even when they had established connections, they didn't see them as as strong as those available to men.
The takeaway: Growing a network requires time and strategy. Often, business owners run in the same circles, attending only one type of event. So, to cultivate a variety of connections, women veteran entrepreneurs should commit to attending an array of events such as industry-specific conferences, customer-focused sessions and women in business-focused programs, among others.
Additionally, they should be mindful that networking events are not just about pitching your business or yourself. They're opportunties to listen to others and glean advice from the conversation. Creating a two-way street yields meaningful connections that will grow into a meaningful network.
Help with navigating resources
Another challenge that military-connected women in STEM face, according to the research cited, is navigating the often-obscure sea of resources. In fact, numerous programs are targeted toward veteran entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs -- even those interested in STEM businesses specifically. However, these services are often disjointed and don't address the unique needs of a subgroup like women veteran entrepreneurs, leaving them confused as to where to begin.
The key to navigating resources is being humble and honest about what stage your business is in, and what challenges you face. Remember that your needs will change as your business grows: A startup needs a completely different set of resources than does a more established venture.
Of course, at the local level, most communities have small business development centers that can refer fledgling business owners to appropriate resources. Working with such organizations not only builds an owner's network of fellow entrepreneurs and possible funders, but also allows for the exploration of options to make informed decisions on how to grow a venture.
The takeaway: Women veteran entrepreneurs should definitely use these local resources. But, as a self-contained demographic, they should also turn to programs meant specifically for them. The IVMF, for instance, offers Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) program to women veterans, active duty women service members and women military spouses. Three phases of premier training in entrepreneurship and small business management are all available free of charge.
So is the support of other women who have been through the losses and experiences unique to military service and who can help one another adjust to this new phase called civilian life.