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 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.