Helping Small Businesses Spring from Big Dreams: Halfaker supports VA’s National Veteran Small Business Conference

Detroit, MI—Detroit was buzzing from June 26-29, 2012 as over 8,000 Veterans attended the three-day National Veteran Small Business Conference and Expo, VA for Vets Hiring Fair, and the Veteran Open House at the Detroit Cobo Center. The event, hosted by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), was designed to have something for every Veteran. The largest of its kind, this year’s conference offered Veterans a tremendous amount of information needed to negotiate the small business sector, to negotiate the job market, and to negotiate the VA system.

The conference was held at a critical time for Veterans, tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans are facing difficulty transitioning from the military to the civilian job sector as the US emerges from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Many, including the VA, believe that capitalizing on the leadership and drive possessed by many Veterans is key to revitalizing our American economy. During his keynote address at the National Veteran Small Business Conference, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Honorable Eric Shinseki, said, “Veterans possess the vision and abilities to help build an enduring and vibrant economy. VA is doing its part to help translate those traits into results.”

Looking to help Veterans translate the leadership skills learned on the battlefield to running their own small business, the VA offered a variety of training and networking opportunities for Veterans at the National Veterans Small Business Conference and Expo. “The biggest challenge for small business owners is to connect with those who make the decisions, those who can help them get the contracts,” said Tom Leney, Executive Director, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Helping Veterans to overcome this challenge, the conference connected small business owners with the decision makers (acquisition managers, program managers, small business advocates, supplier diversity managers, business development representatives) to learn about acquisition forecasting and business requirements needed to compete for future contracts. The networking sessions at the conference weren’t just set aside time blocks where Veterans shook someone’s hand and dropped off their business card—Veterans held real discussions and forged valuable business relationships with key decision makers. Leney explained, “What is exceptional about this conference is what we call ‘the direct connect’ where small business owners can connect with the right people in the right way to further their businesses, but also for the agencies and larger businesses to leave with a good number of small businesses that they can work with.”

The conference also offered over 200 educational presentations from industry leaders and workshops on topics relevant to those looking to start their own small businesses as well as those who already operate their own firms. Some of the topics covered included, how to write a business plan, methods to access financing, how to write a proposal, how to network, the bidding process and more. The conference also offered Veterans an online networking platform, VetGovPartner (, where they could network and research attending agencies and companies before, during and after the conference. This was beneficial to many attendees, like Campbell Shannon, owner of Transformation Advisors Group and U.S. Navy Veteran. Campbell said having a tool to view attending companies and agencies in advance helped him plan, “You can look and see if the companies are good partners for you. It helps you target who you want to meet.”

With so many varied avenues to assist Veterans in starting or advancing their own business, finding a job at the hiring fair, or exploring and applying for a myriad of benefits offered at the open house, this year’s Detroit conference had something for everyone. Shinseki articulated in his keynote speech on July 26th why supporting Veteran-owned businesses its such an important priority for the VA, “Small businesses spring from big dreams, and they lead to even bigger dreams. This is important to you. This is important to the country. Aren’t we the folks who won the wars for this Nation? Well, the Nation needs us now to win this one against a lethargic economy.”

Last year, the VA exceeded by more than six times the Small Business Administration (SBA) goal of government procurements to Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB). Committed to furthering their support of Veteran owned small businesses, they announced additional steps the VA will take to streamline their processes:

  • Any contract not going to a Veteran-owned small business must be reviewed by a senior executive and concurred with by a senior contracting executive.
  • For the first time, VA has established small business procurement goals all the way down to the lowest senior executive level that exercises procurement responsibilities.
  • The verification process has been simplified.  There is now bi-annual re-verification of the VIP database.

The VA hopes the above procedures will help attendees maximize the return of their investment of time and money to be at the conference. Shinseki said, “I want to have Veterans employed and small business contracts rolling out before the end of summer. We’re ready, are you?”

Are you ready to follow your dreams of owning a small business? The VA is looking to start new contracts with Veteran-owned small businesses. Follow the conference team on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to join the conference conversation and stay up to date on industry current affairs. We hope you decide to join the VA at next year’s conference to follow your dreams and help increase opportunities for our Nation’s Veterans.

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