Female Entrepreneurs Flock to Washington Conference

HEROES leaders.

Brenda Jamison is small in stature, but her need to help others is large. Her compassion is readily apparent as she describes the small, Maryland-based business she operates. "It's called We Keep an Eye On You, Inc.," she said. "It's a home-care service for people who need help with daily chores and personal needs."

Jamison, a Vietnam-era veteran whose Army, Reserve and National Guard career spanned most of the 1970s, assembled her well-regarded business, which employs a number of certified nursing assistants, three years ago. Her desire to grow the venture even further brought her to The American Legion Washington Conference and its two-day "For HEROES" training course for female veterans on March 22-23.

"For HEROES" is an acronym for an intensive, self-explanatory "For Her Entrepreneurship - Resources, Opportunities, Experiences & Support" workshop created by the Small Business Administration and Syracuse University's Whitman School of Management. Jamison was among nearly two dozen female veterans sitting attentively through 16 hours of entrepreneurship mentoring.

The For HEROES entrepreneurial course provided training from Syracuse University faculty members Mike Haynie and John Torrens, who both hold Ph.D.s and extensive academic credentials. The course serves as a thorough introduction to small business operations. It has further value in qualifying attendees to complete an even more intensive multi-week online business course offered free of charge to veterans by the Whitman School of Management.

The group in attendance for the Washington Conference event had varying levels of business experience and proficiencies. Some, like Jamison, had well-established businesses. Others had just begun their new career ventures. Others were starting over in business, while another segment of attendees was in the initial business planning or visionary stages.

Seated next to Jamison was Danelle Phipps of McLean, Virginia, a fellow Army vet who spent 16 years in the service, primarily as a linguist. She has put her familiarity with exotic languages such as Urdu, Farsi, Persian and Pashto to use in a small business, offering IT and language training services to public and private sector clients.

She explains that her company, The Millennium Group, is now in its ninth year and was actually founded by her business-savvy husband. Phipps attended For HEROES to get up to business speed herself. "It was great," she said at day's end. "I learned so much to take home."

Jamison's and Phipps' neighboring classmate was Rani Hobgood, a Texas native who now lives in Alexandria, Virginia. Though Hobgood does not presently own a small business, she hands out business cards that provide a neat and compact bio and resume. On a sky blue background, the card reads "Rani Hobgood, Sky Goddess and Wine Snob" and bears a tiny photograph of a Canadair CRJ200 regional jet airliner in US Airways livery.

Hobgood spent seven years in the Air Force wishing to follow in the footsteps of her father, who was a pilot. She completed flight training but due to a surplus of pilots in the service, she was assigned as a ground intelligence officer. Her dream of occupying a cockpit seat was realized after service, however, when she put her GI Bill benefits to work in obtaining the civilian certifications necessary to become an airline pilot. She joined US Airways in 2005, and by 2013, she had migrated from the right seat as first officer to the left seat as captain.

"Being an airline captain was something I had always wanted," she said.

Sadly, this was not to last. On Nov. 15, 2013, Hobgood underwent open heart surgery, saving her life but depriving her of the medical certification required to continue her airline career. While many, if not most, pilots would be heartbroken if grounded, Hobgood says she considers her surgery date as her "second birthday."

"I am now at a welcome fork in the road where I can go wherever I want," she said.

Where Hobgood wants to go is back to Texas -- San Antonio, to be precise -- and open a wine shop. "I was a wine snob long before I was a sky goddess," she said, "so this is a perfect opportunity."

Hobgood joined Jamison and Phipps in giving the For HEROES training an enthusiastically positive review.

"Now I know I can do this," she said.

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