A new partnership is giving military spouse business owners a seat at the table.
2020 data reveals military spouses continue to face barriers to employment, even as efforts by the public and private sector to elevate this demographic’s value in the workforce rage on years after the introduction of Joining Forces — an initiative of the Obama Administration that is expected to be relaunched by incoming first lady Dr. Jill Biden. The findings show the 24% joblessness rate to be an issue that varies by location, rather than being a monolithic problem, according to Deloitte.
This month, three military spouses launched a new endeavor that they said strengthens the obvious solution to an enduring employment problem: entrepreneurship. Jaime Chapman, Beth Conlin and Stephanie Brown are dubbing 2021 as the year of the military spouse entrepreneur by announcing the creation of the United States Military Spouse Chamber of Commerce (MSCC).
United States Military Chamber of Commerce
The MSCC provides active duty and veteran military spouse business owners the tools and resources they need to launch their businesses and have them grow and stand out in a crowded marketplace. The chamber also provides the first-ever Military Spouse Owned Enterprise (MSE) certification, a tool that allows companies to track their supplier diversity spend with these military spouse-owned businesses.
The idea grew out of a working group the three served on surrounding solutions for military spouse employment. Brown, a Navy spouse and the founder and CEO of The Rosie Network — an organization dedicated to developing military spouse entrepreneurial programs — approached Army spouses Conlin and Chapman with the concept.
Conlin, who serves as senior program manager for military spouse programs at Amazon, couldn’t believe that a chamber of commerce for military spouses didn’t already exist. Considering there are specific chambers for veterans, women and minority-owned businesses, and a variety of other classifications, she was shocked.
“I remember thinking, ‘How is this not already a thing? We need to rectify this,’” Conlin said.
Chapman, who is the owner of the military spouse staffing agency Begin Within, knew the need as she had seen it over and over again in her professional life.
“Military spouses are moving faster than their careers can keep up. Entrepreneurship is a solution for that,” Chapman said.
“This idea had been percolating for some time in the back of my mind and, it was clear that the moment was now,” Brown said.
The trio put their collective 30 plus years of experience in the nonprofit and for-profit world and reached out to their myriad of contacts in the corporate and defense sectors. The result, the MSCC, is an organization committed to empowering and advocating on behalf of military spouse business owners from Capitol Hill to communities across the country.
How will it work?
The chamber is a go-to resource for military spouses, providing the meat and potatoes of starting, running and marketing a business.
“Having spouses feel more empowered and encouraged and that they are not alone is our goal,” Brown said.
Because MSCC is designed and run by military spouses, it was created with military-specific questions in mind, including how to PCS with a business, registering a business on a specific installation or how to navigate the challenges surrounding SOFA working requirements that often impede spouses living abroad.
For Brown, the resources are key to business and social success.
“We are the one-stop-shop, no wrong door, location for everything vetted for military spouses for their business,” Brown said.
Why should military spouses join the chamber?
Conlin says that the chamber is collecting all of the disparate pieces of information that may be hard for spouses to currently find.
“If it’s time for me to start a business, where’s the support? If it’s time for me to exit a business, where’s the support? We are a unifying entity that’s 360-wrap around support for a milspouse small business owner,” she said.
The chamber offers two key deliverables — the ability to connect with other spouse-owned businesses and to connect with corporate partners. By providing an opportunity zone for military spouse run businesses to contract with local and national companies, MSCC is based on forging relationships.
“I think a better question is: ‘Why wouldn’t you join the chamber?’” Brown said, adding that the core mission — supporting military spouses in their business endeavors — drives the organization at all levels.
“We are providing resources and support for spouses.”
Who is considered a military spouse?
A military spouse is defined (outside the confines of federal entities) as a current or former partner of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, including veterans, guard, reserves, active-duty service members and Gold Star spouses.
What is the MSE certification?
The Military Spouse Owned Enterprise Solution (MSE) is a certification available through the chamber. By going through the certification process, MSEs will receive notifications of business opportunities with companies who are looking to hire military spouse owned businesses for business-to-business services. Being an officially-registered enterprise helps businesses stand out among the competition, enhances brand credibility and opens entrepreneurial opportunities.
In order to qualify for an MSE certification, the business must be 51% owned and operated by a U.S. military spouse, or jointly by two or more military spouses. They must have a legally-registered business and be a registered member of the U.S. Military Spouse Chamber of Commerce. For specific eligibility requirements and a list of documents required, visit MSCC’s website.
How do corporate partners fold into this?
Conlin, Brown and Chapman stress that this is a great opportunity for corporate America. “If you are a company that supports the military community, it is absolutely proven that you expand your business reach,” Conlin said. “Companies that support the military bring in new customers.”
According to Conlin, there’s a subset of organizations that already support military communities that are eager to join and support spouses.
“With military spouse employment, in particular, being a more of a relevant conversation the past couple of years, changing that conversation towards military spouse entrepreneurship isn’t going to be so shocking. It’s not going to be something that’s so hard to understand,” she said.
“Because our military spouse owned businesses are so incredibly diverse, whether its services or products, we can easily, strategically develop pipelines of contacts,” Conlin said. “It is a two-way model that allows us to reach out to those who we know will provide support and to look internally to who we know we have and push those opportunities out to other companies.”
“We are on a mission to connect military spouse owned businesses with companies that want to hire them,” Chapman said. “It is our job to find those connections.”
The existing challenges
Military spouse unemployment and underemployment has been a source of frustration for military families for some time. The Department of Defense has invested time and resources to address the issue, including the Military Spouse Employment Partnership and a variety of other endeavors. While these efforts have generated a great deal of productive conversations, unemployment numbers for military spouses hover around 24% with nearly 77% reporting underemployment, according to Blue Star Families’ 2019 annual survey of military families.
Small business solutions
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 31.7 million small businesses in the U.S. From 2000 to 2019, small businesses created double the amount of jobs as large businesses, 10.5 net as compared to 5.6 million. Furthermore, small businesses have accounted for 65.1% of net new job creation since 2000.
Recent data shows that almost half of military spouses are turning towards self-employment and entrepreneurship. According to Jaime Chapman, co-founder and vice president of the Military Spouse Chamber of Commerce, that’s only going to increase. “The military spouse chamber will address issues outside of traditional employment and this will help launch military spouse-owned businesses as a recognized entity in business,” Chapman said.