By Lauren Russell, 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
More than 200 military spouses, veterans, and transitioning service members attended in-person and virtually to an Entrepreneurship Essentials Workshop and Resource Fair at Hanscom Air Force Base last Friday.
The Department of Commerce and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, in partnership with Hanscom base officials, hosted the free event to share information and network opportunities to assist military-connected entrepreneurs in their business endeavors.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of USPTO Kathi Vidal, joined experts in business development, as well as military spouses and veteran entrepreneurs during panel discussions to demystify the process of honing a business plan and protecting a brand.
“The importance of small business to our economy cannot be overstated,” said Vidal. “Obviously more businesses can result in more jobs and economic prosperity, but it provides an opportunity for different ideas, innovations, and technologies to be introduced in society.”
These developments are especially crucial throughout the nation’s tech and innovation hubs, including the Greater Boston area.
Vidal noted that generating entrepreneurship in military-connected persons affects more than just the one percent of those who choose to serve in the armed forces.
There are more than 2 million veteran-owned businesses throughout the United States, employing more than 5.2 million people, she said.
“Delivering this information is not just important to you, it’s important to our country,” said Vidal.
According to the undersecretary, the unemployment rate for military spouses is currently 22 percent – nearly six times the national average.
Growing up in a military family, Vidal remembers the ways her mother and father, a former active-duty sailor, would find ways to supplement their household income.
Vidal saw firsthand how difficult it can be for military families to pursue a passion or find creative ways to contribute to the home. However, she said her experiences also proved that military-connected persons have what it takes to be successful.
“Entrepreneurs need to be resilient, know how to make connections, and be able to jump into something new and find a way to make it work,” said Vidal. “These qualities are why our veterans and military spouses make some of the most successful entrepreneurs.”
Nicole O’Brien, founder and CEO of Operation Made, started her business journey more than 12 years ago while her family was stationed at Okinawa, Japan with the U.S. Coast Guard.
The former military spouse and panelist turned her hobby of repurposing license plates into a large-scale operation. She began making sales to her neighbors and at craft sales, and is now partnering with major national retailers.
O’Brien sells her products online and, in her brick-and-mortar location in Warwick, RI, and says developing a business to operate virtually is part of the appeal for military spouses.
“Entrepreneurship is a great option for spouses as an alternative career, or to supplement income,” she said. “Best of all, you can build your business to be portable, so it goes where you and your family go.”
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, to network, and make mistakes,” she said. “You don’t have to know everything to begin.”
During her panel discussion, O’Brien urged those in attendance to immerse themselves in the culture of entrepreneurship and take advantage of all the available resources.
“We want to help you start a business, protect your IP, get from a wonderful idea to a successful business,” said Raimondo. “That’s what this is all about – reaching veterans and military members and families who are figuring it out on their own – so we can help you. All the resources at DOC are available to you.”
For additional information or resources available for military-connected entrepreneurs, visit www.uspto.gov/initiatives/entrepreneurship-resources-military-community.