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PenFed Foundation Helps Female Veterans Accelerate Their Business

Finalists of a program that prepares and empowers military women-run startups and small businesses are sharing the impact the training is having on their ventures.

The PenFed Foundation announced the launch of the Veteran Entrepreneur Investment Program (VEIP) Military Women Startup Accelerator earlier this year, with a workshop series on business-focused education, business development and scaling strategies, access to resources, pitch preparation and coaching that inspires and prepares entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. Ten finalists were chosen as part of the program.

Military spouse Gabriella Bell, founder and CEO of Organized Q, was among those named. As she continues to expand her business, Bell said she’s set a goal to provide her employees with professional development opportunities geared towards diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a final candidate in the program, she received a grant to take Organized Q to the next level.

“We have clients from all types of backgrounds, from different socioeconomic statuses, different parts of the country, even different parts of the world,” Bell said. “I think it’s important for our team to have that skillset and knowledge.”

The group of military-affiliated women entrepreneurs all received a $3,000 investment for their business after attending the VEIP boot camp.

“In the last six to 10 years ... of all the investment capital that’s been deployed, less than 2% has gone to women,” said Seda Goff, PenFed Foundation senior director of veteran entrepreneurs. “An even smaller amount has gone to veteran entrepreneurs in general, so we saw an opportunity to bridge the gap.”

More than 260 business owners registered for a series of seminars, or modules, over 10 weeks. Subject matter experts covered topics like design thinking, knowing your target audience, and leveraging social media marketing. To be considered for the grant, candidates needed to attend all modules and create a testimonial video about their business and how the accelerator would help it grow. Goff added, the 10 chosen for the grant were women who built their businesses to solve problems they could relate to.

“It really shows the strength of the female experience,” she said.

The “tactical pause” for the companies — ranging from the idea stage to initial startup — allowed them to also focus on telling their stories. The program’s original intent was to choose the top three candidates from a pitch competition at the Military Influencer Conference in May 2021. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was postponed. Even while they had to transition the accelerator to a virtual platform, Goff said, the foundation could still advance its initiatives.

“There are a lot of other programs out there that help with capital from pitch competitions,” Goff explained. “What we found is that it ends up being another way we help veteran entrepreneurs access capital. Those who go through our pitch prep tend to do better at pitch competitions, which then gets them additional capital.”

PenFed Credit Union established the PenFed Foundation in 2001 to assist military members and their families in building financial stability. The foundation, which was designated a 501(c)3 a year later, now offers emergency financial assistance, home buying assistance and student loan repayment scholarships.

In March 2020, PenFed became the first veteran service organization to launch a COVID-19 emergency financial relief program for military members and veterans facing hardships during the pandemic. Since its inception, the foundation has provided over $38.5 million in financial assistance for military members, their families, caregivers and veterans.

Additionally, VEIP continues to host events for continuing education and offers ongoing support as the businesses grow. Luminary Global CEO and Founder Valerie Lavin was a grant recipient through the startup accelerator and was also accepted for the master’s program — a one-year intensive incubator meant to raise investor funds and scale her startup.

Another accelerator finalist, Jennifer Vollbrecht, a Marine veteran, is the president of J. Vollbrecht Consulting. She said she felt a sense of validation throughout the boot camp and said she was grateful for the networking opportunity while sharing an experience with other business owners from the military community.

“What really stuck with me … is that now we all know each other. We know each other’s capabilities, and we have the ability to do business together,” Vollbrecht said.

Visit https://veip.penfedfoundation.org to learn more about the program and available resources.

Stay tuned for more information on the individual finalists from the Military Women Startup Accelerator.

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