An Interview with AVBEC: Why Alexandria is Crafting A Unique Program for Veterans

A few weeks ago, we spoke with Emily McMahan, the Director of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC). This week, Emily is back to talk a little more about what makes the AVBEC unique. With so many resources for veterans right now, why does the City and region need the AVBEC? With the drawdown… Read more »

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A few weeks ago, we spoke with Emily McMahan, the Director of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC). This week, Emily is back to talk a little more about what makes the AVBEC unique.

With so many resources for veterans right now, why does the City and region need the AVBEC?
With the drawdown across the Department of Defense, there is a surge of service members currently transitioning from our local bases. As a city, we view this situation as an opportunity to attract top talent to our local workforce. As such, we are one of the few jurisdictions taking an active, organized approach towards veterans in business. That being said, we also appreciate that there are a number of challenges unique to service members when they’re “taking the uniform off.” We understand that there’s often fear and uncertainty about the next steps of a career change. Because of this, we designed our program around the sensitivity that transitioning takes time, requires reflection, and often brings personal questions about identity, purpose, and what life looks like after the military.

Aside from the large population of transitioning service members, there is also a surge of resources aimed at helping veterans right now. For the past year, we have met with many of the top organizations assisting veterans, not only to set up partnerships, but to learn about their services and identify opportunities for AVBEC to fill any gaps. We know that, from the veteran’s perspective, it can be a bit overwhelming to be on the receiving end of all these resources if they lack coordination and appear duplicative. We designed the AVBEC with this in mind.

First, we view our organization as a platform to showcase and promote the best, most credible training and content on veteran business and career transition. These programs are already providing the best building blocks and foundations for success outside of the military, so we’re not looking to recreate this content. Instead, we’re looking to present these services in an organized way and to work with veterans and providers to ensure a coordinated approach to meeting the needs of each service member.

Second, the AVBEC’s value is truly recognized in the veteran’s “execution phase” of his or her transition. For example, what happens when a veteran entrepreneur goes through small business training, develops a business plan, and then needs to find office space? Or, the veteran and her business partner need to create a network for opportunities? While training and classes provide knowledge and exposure, we’ve learned that most veterans need high quality support once they start executing. We can often help solve the “real-world” business problems through referrals, tools, and consultants, which are often at no-cost to the veteran.
In summary, we want our agencies and fellow organizations to feel like they can “hand the baton” off to the AVBEC when the service member is ready to integrate into the community. The AVBEC is best positioned to facilitate that successful integration. While understanding the basics about business is critical, we find that cultivating strong relationships and networks is what often makes business people successful in the long term. We can make those connections and offer services that are relevant right here in our city.

What other cities have taken similar initiatives with respect to veterans?
There are a number of cities that stand out such as Jacksonville, Charlotte, and Augusta, Georgia. One of the cities that mirrors our approach most closely is Jacksonville, Florida. They have a wonderful model focused on veteran employment and reintegration after which we modeled aspects of our program. While there are many cities doing great things for veterans, we feel that our scope and focus on entrepreneurship, employment, and the current business community is unique because we work so closely with the Alexandria SBDC, Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP), Chamber of Commerce, and JobLink. We also work with many of our neighboring jurisdiction’s economic and workforce development organizations as well.

How do you define a top veteran business community?
I see a great veteran business community as one that provides services specific to veteran-owned businesses and veterans in business. It’s a place that provides a sense of community, hometown feel, and pride for those who served through events and dialogue across multiple domains and platforms. A top veteran business community is driven by a city-wide caring approach that ultimately drives the economy through small business growth, employment, and opportunities for veterans.

What advice you have for veterans looking to start a business?
Dedication and support – Starting a business is one of the most rewarding things you will do but, but you must understand that there will be many sacrifices. If you are transitioning after a particularly demanding deployment or assignment, you are very familiar with the long days and weekends that your start-up will require of you. This dedication is definitely a prerequisite. Similar to a deployment, having a solid support network is paramount to lessening the stress and even loneliness of starting a new business.

Who you surround yourself with is very important – it’s important to build a well-balanced team. This one notion is critical to ensuring you don’t overemphasize one particular area of your company. For example, many veterans are competent in a specific technical area but lack the balance and exposure of colleagues in business and/or operations. Or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, many veterans excel at team building and leadership but may lack the top talent they need in say, engineering or technology. You want to ensure that your operation is balanced to ensure you have a diversity of talent and people who can challenge and validate your ideas.

Get it down on paper – without a strong vision from the beginning, it is very easy to lose your way. Many veterans understand the value of planning and how crucial it is to success. In the beginning, it will feel like there is so much to do and that you can’t waste your time writing. Time will hopefully grant you the opportunities to self-correct along the way for your product or service, but it is very difficult to redirect a company’s values after your culture cements. Taking the time in the beginning to reflect on your company’s values and strategic planning will capture your vision and block out the noise of competing priorities.

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HR & Hiring: Finding the Right People

This week’s video blog is presented by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patricia is one of the counselors at the SBDC and specializes in HR and employment. In this clip, she discusses tips and recommendations for finding enough of the right types of people during the hiring process. If you’re interested in more… Read more »

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This week’s video blog is presented by Patricia Frame of Strategies for Human Resources. Patricia is one of the counselors at the SBDC and specializes in HR and employment. In this clip, she discusses tips and recommendations for finding enough of the right types of people during the hiring process. If you’re interested in more information about HR and employment issues, visit our HR & Employer Issues page. The Alexandria SBDC also offers monthly HR Counseling sessions with Patricia for businesses located in the City of Alexandria. If you are interested in attending one of these sessions, please contact Gloria Flanagan.

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An Overview of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC)

The Alexandria SBDC recently had the opportunity to catch up with Emily McMahan, Director of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC).  McMahan, an Army veteran and former partner in a local small business, is passionate about Alexandria’s role in facilitating the professional success of veterans and their spouses. We recently sat down with her… Read more »

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Emily McMahan counseling an AVBEC clientThe Alexandria SBDC recently had the opportunity to catch up with Emily McMahan, Director of the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center (AVBEC).  McMahan, an Army veteran and former partner in a local small business, is passionate about Alexandria’s role in facilitating the professional success of veterans and their spouses. We recently sat down with her to ask a few questions about this powerful new SBDC program and hear her thoughts on how Alexandria is leading the way.

Tell us more about the AVBEC. What is your mission?  How did it begin?

The AVBEC’s mission is to make Alexandria the top veteran business community in both Virginia and the United States. It was founded in 2013 after a group of Alexandria citizens, business owners, and representatives from state and regional agencies got together to discuss how Alexandria was attracting veteran talent to join the workforce and facilitating professional success for veterans and their spouses.

What’s unique about our center is our scope. While we primarily offer services to transitioning service members and spouses who are looking to start a business or explore a new career, we are also assisting our veteran-owned businesses to grow here in Alexandria. In addition, we also work with local businesses that want to hire veterans or get involved. It’s truly a holistic effort focused the entire business community.

What services does the AVBEC provide? 

The AVBEC is a special program of the Alexandria SBDC that also focuses on veteran career services. We incorporate the SBDC’s tools and resources but focus specifically on veteran issues with respect to starting a business or a new career.

The AVBEC’s services and resources are organized around four tracks: 1) Entrepreneurial Support, 2) Career Advisory Services, 3) Business Expansion and Optimization, and 4) Networking and Developing Professional Connections.

This summer and fall, we are hosting a number of exciting programs and opportunities which include: teaching local companies how to hire veterans; working with Virginia Procurement Technical Assistance Program to explain government contracting designations; hosting a major business school’s veteran transition program; and finally, our bimonthly speaker series and quarterly networking events. This is all in addition to our regular counseling sessions and day-to-day meetings with clients, businesses, and partners.

Tell us more about what the veteran business community looks like in Alexandria:

Of our almost 140,000 Alexandria residents, more than 11,000 are veterans. At more than eight percent, our city’s veteran concentration is one of the highest in the DC area.  We are currently following about 240 Alexandria veteran-owned companies, with consulting / contracting and IT consulting / programming being the top two industries. As we get out into the community, that number continues to grow as we learn about businesses that are veteran-owned but don’t promote themselves as such. One of the AVBEC’s goals is to build and maintain our own database to better organize and showcase Alexandria’s veteran-owned businesses. Businesses can register online at AlexandriaVeterans.org under the “Join AVBEC” link.

In November 2013, Mayor Euille declared 2014 as the “Year of the Veteran” in Alexandria. In support of this proclamation, we are assisting a recently-formed organization called the Alexandria Veterans Advisory Group led by John Sims, an Army veteran and transition specialist at the Military Officers Association of America. Every month, the group meets to discuss the upcoming veteran events and initiatives and is currently organizing a weeklong series of Alexandria events in honor of Veterans Day this year. We are always looking for new members and ideas.

Why should a veteran start a company in Alexandria versus Arlington or DC?

We get asked this question a lot, and it’s important for a number of reasons. We usually discuss many factors, such as our location, infrastructure, top industries, workforce, success stories, and tax structure. Then, we talk about the intangibles, such as the tight-knit community here. Having access to a supportive business network, resources, and having an organization like the AVBEC that truly cares about a veteran business’ success is often what separates our city from our neighbors.

Tell us more about the incubator that is opening this fall:

We are very excited about having an incubator designed for veteran-owned businesses! When we first started the AVBEC, we had a vision of creating a professional, quiet and tight-knit space for veterans to meet and collaborate on projects, get advice, or seek mentorship.

Many small businesses lack the necessary space to bring clients to for a presentation, or they need a place to interview a potential employee. On a more personal level, they sometimes need a place to go to get out of the house and “stop talking to the walls!” We connected the dots on the resounding theme that veterans like working with other veterans and realized that there was a need to bring that commonality and spirit together into a physical setting.

Most importantly, the center is being co-located with the SBDC to provide the best access to counselors and resources. We will provide more information later this summer on how to access the center once construction begins.

How can I get involved?

There are a number of ways to get involved with the AVBEC between financial sponsorship, mentorship, and volunteering. Please contact me through our website for more information.

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Navigating the Start Your Business Checklist

One of the new features of the Alexandria SBDC website is the Startup Checklist.  We developed this checklist because entrepreneurs are sometimes confused as to what steps are necessary to open a business, or do not know where to start. For all small businesses, we recommend that you review the elements of the checklist. Deciding… Read more »

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One of the new features of the Alexandria SBDC website is the Startup Checklist.  We developed this checklist because entrepreneurs are sometimes confused as to what steps are necessary to open a business, or do not know where to start. For all small businesses, we recommend that you review the elements of the checklist.

Deciding on a Business Structure, Obtaining an EIN (Employer Identification Number), Registering an LLC or Corporation with the State, and Obtaining your Local Business License are the legal steps necessary before you open your business.  The checklist also links to topics such as taxes, business planning and insurance.

Home-based businesses, such as many consultants, will find that the Alexandria Business License process is quite simple, with a few restrictions on what business activities can be done from home.  Those opening brick-and-mortar businesses will have some additional steps involving building permits, certificates of occupancy, and signage regulations. All are outlined in the checklist, and additional information is available in the Resource Library part of the website and from the SBDC, as well as City of Alexandria Permit Center staff.

Please note that this checklist should be considered a set of guidelines, and not a substitute for the professionals that some businesses will need to hire to start and run their businesses successfully.  If you are considering a Corporation or similar business structure we encourage you to work with an attorney familiar with small business issues.  Spending funds at the beginning to get your structure set up correctly may save you time, money and headaches in the long-run, particularly in multi-owner situations.

Likewise, you may wish to have your lease reviewed before you sign it, and have an accountant or bookkeeper assist you in setting up your accounting systems.  The Alexandria SBDC can provide you with referrals to local professionals familiar with small business issues.

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An Introduction to the Interactive Resource Library

One of the most important features of our new website is the ability to pass information along to our clients and to give businesses easy access to resources and tools. In order to accomplish this, we developed our Interactive Resource Library. The Library is a collection of documents, ranging from checklists to sample forms to… Read more »

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One of the most important features of our new website is the ability to pass information along to our clients and to give businesses easy access to resources and tools. In order to accomplish this, we developed our Interactive Resource Library.

The Library is a collection of documents, ranging from checklists to sample forms to helpful tips. All of these documents can be filtered in a variety of ways. To begin, you can choose to see all of the resources in the library by selecting the View All button.

View All_Resource Library

You can also choose to filter documents by Stage of Business, Industry, or Area of Need. This allows each user to quickly find the documents that are specifically relevant to his or her unique business needs. To filter, use the categories located along the left side of the Interactive Resource Library.

Filtering_Resource Library

Once you select criteria, the documents related to that Stage of Business, Industry, or Area of Need will be displayed. Filtering resources for Government Contracting, for example, would yield the following results:

Government Contracting_Resource Library

You can always go back to the beginning by clicking on the “View All” button.

We hope you will find the Interactive Resource Library helpful and informative. We will continue to add relevant resources, so check back frequently to discover new information and documents.

 

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