By Alex Horton
The National Veterans Small Business Conference recently wrapped up in New Orleans, and the turnout this year—with more than 3,400 in attendance—was more than expected. It was my first business conference, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Maybe a few confusing classes about a subject I knew nothing about or a lunch or two and that would be it. But I walked away from the expo center with a sense of a pride for fellow Veterans striving to meet their goals of operating (and beginning) successful businesses. I listened to challenges they face first hand, like the stigma of PTSD and TBI in the workplace and barriers to find and recruit other Vets to fill job slots.
VA also had an Open House, where Veterans could find out more information on health care and benefits, as well as register for eBenefits and My HealtheVet. I hadn’t been authenticated for both and expected a complicated stack of forms to get enrolled. Instead, VA representatives made a few key strokes and got me in the system.
Since no one would trust me with the keys to a business, I asked an attendee to break down the importance and utility of the conference. I ran into Kyle Campbell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who is now the Executive Principal for Business Development at tiag, an innovative management and technology services company. He had the following to share:
What did you come here expecting to learn?
Kyle Campbell: Our interest in attending the VA SB Conference in New Orleans was to expand our current business opportunities within VA and the federal sector, establish professional relationships with other companies for future business and teaming opportunities, mentoring, and peer networking.
What potential business opportunities have generated from contacts and networking?
KC: The conference sessions and matchmaking events provided an opportunity for expanding customer relationships and finding current/future potential business opportunities. The conference did a very good job having representation from a number of federal agencies: USAF, NIH, VA, DHS etc. I expanded my government contact list with each of the agencies mentioned above and have several follow up appointments planned this next couple of weeks.
What was the most important thing you learned that you will take back to your business?
KC: Our business is about relationships. Expanding our government and “peer” companies’ relationships was extremely beneficial. The general sessions and daily guest speakers were exceptional – very committed, motivating and inspirational.
If you had to convince another Veteran business owner to attend a conference, what would you tell him?
KC: They need to come to this conference. The Government and Conference/Convention Center Activities Coordinator for New Orleans did a very good job in negotiating rates which made attending affordable. The curriculum and agenda is such that companies just starting out through maturely managed organizations will benefit from attending. [It was an] exceptional conference.
If you were unable to make the conference this year, consider coming next time—especially if you have a business idea you’re mulling over. This week I saw plenty of people who have made a successful leap into business, so it’s not as impossible as you might think.