Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program Scholar inspires veteran women to make entrepreneurial dreams a reality

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Learn more about Lindsay Davis Ed.D..
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Lindsay Davis Ed.D.
Deputy Director, Leadership and Programming
George W. Bush Institute

For VR Small, “women helping women” is more than a guiding philosophy: It’s the actionable way in which she lives her life.  

A Navy veteran, an award-winning business owner, and a fierce advocate for women veterans, especially those who are business owners, Small founded the Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center in 2017 to empower women entrepreneurs associated with the military to grow their small businesses. But her journey with entrepreneurship and advocacy dates back much further, beginning with babysitting for other military families as a young girl. 

While in the Navy, Small developed business-focused skills which were transferrable to civilian life, but that’s not the case for all veterans. She saw a gap that needed to be filled when many women veterans turned to her for support and mentorship with their own business ideas and journeys. So the Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center was born. The organization has engaged nearly 4,000 individuals since it opened and its 4BusinessRecovery Campaign has reinvested nearly $100,000 in participants’ businesses. 

Under Small’s leadership, the Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center has worked with female veterans across more than 30 states and around the world. They include local businesses like MilkSpace, which supports nursing mothers at big events; Cheramie Wine, an acclaimed Texas wine company; TJL Collection, which sells stylish clothing for tall women; and GXA, a Multiple Inc. 5000 IT consulting business.  

The center is the culmination of Small’s lifelong passion for entrepreneurship. She has made a career out of starting businesses, from entertainment to real estate to consulting. After completing her naval service, she formed a company that, among other things, provided clients with customized training solutions. Here, Small began to detect the problems facing transitioning women veterans with entrepreneurial dreams.  

Women veterans form the fastest-growing group of veterans in our country. More than 2 million women veterans live in the United States, and the VA estimates that Texas, the home base for the Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center, has more women veterans than any other state.  And there’s a proven entrepreneurship need: women veterans have become the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurs in recent years, according to data published by Sandboxx in 2021.    

“One in 10 veterans are women, but they own one in six veteran-owned businesses,” Sandboxx explained. 

Small feels strongly that entrepreneurship is what makes our communities vibrant – and most veteran entrepreneurs seek out Main Street-type business opportunities. But, sadly, most new businesses fail after five years. Small wants to help women veterans beat those odds.   

“They want to serve their community,” she said. “They want to do something that in some way gives back, and they’re right here in each of our backyards. We need to do more to support them.” 

Small is a 2019 Scholar of George W. Bush Institute’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program. As her personal leadership project, she developed a local report on the status of women veteran-owned businesses. In 2020, she launched phase two of this project, a survey of DFW women veteran-owned businesses, working in conjunction with SMU’s Global Development Lab in the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity. 

She has taken her advocacy for women veterans as far as the Texas Legislature, where she testified in support of formally establishing a state Women Veterans Day in 2017, helping Texas become one of the first states in the Nation to take this important step of recognition.  

She urges everyone to shop veteran-owned and women veteran-owned businesses whenever possible. And she encourages anyone interested in doing more to support women veteran entrepreneurs to reach out to the Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center to become a volunteer, sponsor, or partner. 

Funding is always a challenge – and one that limits the breadth of programming the center can offer. However, Small stays solution focused. For the Veteran Women’s Enterprise Center, this can mean pursuing new partnerships, expanding in-person offerings, or capitalizing on new policy that has been introduced to support veterans who seek to start small businesses. 

Thanks to Small’s vision, many exceptional women who have already given so much to their country will have the opportunity to serve their communities again – this time as entrepreneurs.