Local entrepreneurs learn the value of veteran networking

Local entrepreneurs learn the value of veteran networking

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SANDY — Launching a veteran-focused nonprofit was something Ninzel Rasmuson had contemplated for years. The Army National Guard vet wanted a way to help her brothers and sisters in arms who faced emotional trauma and needed support to navigate the world away from their military service.

Today, she is executive director of Honor365 — an organization dedicated to recognizing the lives and sacrifices of military veterans and first responders. Running such an enterprise successfully requires planning, determination and a network of resources that can help the organization accomplish its mission of honoring veterans, she explained.

Rasmuson was among scores of attendees Friday at the Utah Veteran Owned Business Conference hosted by the Salt Lake Chamber. The annual event was established five years ago to aid veteran entrepreneurs, their family members and former military-turned-business owners in getting connected with the resources they need to help them be successful in the local marketplace.

"What I hope to get (from this event) is the current trends in business," she said. "It's also an opportunity to connect with other veterans and professionals in the field that have a vested interest in what we do as veterans. That's really important."

Conference attendees heard from local experts regarding topics including starting and growing a business, procuring government contracts, accessing funding, and finding available local and national resources, explained Cory Pearson, director of veterans services for the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs.

Participants also had a chance for face-to-face interaction with people who can aid in the process of making lasting connections in the local business sector, he added.

"So if someone wants to learn about branding, marketing or funding, (the resources) are here and they are able to sit with them and discuss these matters and it helps them, in the end, be successful," he said.

He noted that the "straight talk" manner in which military veterans are used to conversing is something they appreciate when meeting with fellow veteran business people.

"Being able to access your brothers and sisters who were your 'battle buddies' one day and now they're your 'battle buddies' in business, you're able to have conversations to see what worked (for them) and what didn't work to be more successful in business," Pearson said.

He noted that being an entrepreneur is challenging and many fail at first, but using the principles learned in the military can help veterans achieve success when others might be deterred.

Melissa Sullivan, a Gold Star spouse whose late husband was an Army Special Forces member, attended the conference to become better informed about the world of business and to make connections for the future. She said her previous experience as a paramedic helps her to remain composed in stressful environments, but information from the conference would improve her business knowledge.

"It provides a network and resources of what's out there," she said. "It helps me understand that people start from the ground up and really build businesses up to success (from there)."

It helps me understand that people start from the ground up and really build businesses up to success (from there).

–Melissa Sullivan

As associate director of the nonprofit Honor365, Sullivan said her big takeaway was learning about the importance of proper bookkeeping procedures for the success of any small enterprise, she said.

"Getting a good accountant is key," she said.

She also appreciates being able to work in recognition of veterans like her spouse and first responders who give their lives in service of others.

"(For me), happiness is service," Sullivan said.

Utah had almost 19,000 veteran-owned businesses in 2012, said Salt Lake Chamber President and CEO Derek Miller, "a number that has certainly increased" since then.

“We recognize how important it is for our state’s prosperity to support and grow our local veteran-owned businesses, whether it is demonstrating how to apply the skills they've learned in the military to the marketplace, providing opportunities to network with other veteran-owned businesses or connecting them with available resources,” he said.

While in uniform, military members develop "genuine camaraderie" with their fellow service members that doesn't end upon separation, said Brian Garrett, chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber’s Military Affairs Committee. Similar principles follow as veterans transition to business, he added.

"One of the primary reasons we hold this conference exclusively for veterans is to provide a forum where this companionship can continue, as well as provide them access to resources and tools designed specifically for them and their experiences,” he said.

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