VA Hosts Veteran Small Business Conference in New Orleans Supports Veteran-Owned Businesses and Helps Them Compete for Federal Contracts The Department of Veterans Affairs will host the upcoming National Veterans Small Business Conference and Expo, Aug.15-18 in New Orleans. It will be the largest nationwide conference of its kind focused on helping Veteran-owned businesses succeed in winning federal contracts. ÒVeteran-owned businesses provide world class services and expand employment opportunities for some of our NationÕs most highly-trained and motivated men and women,Ó said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. ÒThat is why VA is proud to host this annual conference to help better prepare these veteran-owned businesses to compete and win contracts with the federal government.Ó The conference, scheduled for the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, will provide Veteran-Owned and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned small businesses of all sizes with an opportunity to learn, network, and market their businesses. The conference will offer a variety of new training sessions on navigating the federal acquisition process, including finance, compliance, business development, marketing, strategy, contract management, human resources, technology, and program management. The conference track sessions will be targeted for a variety of businesses from new business owners just back from theater to well-established Veteran-owned businesses looking to expand opportunities or increase market share. The National Veteran Small Business Conference is open to both government and non-government personnel. For more information and to register for the conference, go to w w w . na t i o na l ve t e r a n s c o n fe r e nc e . c o m. VA photos by Robert Turtil.
Babette Peyton—and her five National Veterans Wheelchair Games gold medals—with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and representatives from Tridec Technologies, LLC, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business, during the National Veterans Small Business Conference

A Chicago program that started as a way to help high school students create their own jobs is now assisting
thousands of veterans to start businesses and gain access to government contracts worth millions. Young Entrepreneurs of the Universe, or YEU, is the brainchild of Paralyzed Veterans of America member Babette Peyton, whose optimism, determination and drive—qualities that earned five gold medals in the recent National Wheelchair Games (see below)—have made YEU a program that other groups look to emulate.

Gold-Medal Warrior
Entrepreneur and veterans’ advocate Babette Peyton sees a definite connection between her job outreach efforts and the five gold medals—in archery, table tennis, slalom obstacle course, wheelchair rally and bowling—she brought home from the 2011 National Wheelchair Games this past August. She recalls one moment especially, as she looked at all the participants, thinking how her involvement in adaptive sports had shown her new possibilities for her life: “I thought, if I can shoot a bow with my mouth, I know we [YEU] can do anything. We can get these businesses going; we can put veterans to work. We are going to get this done!”
Now home in Chicago, she applies the same focus to expanding YEU’s outreach: “Working with groups like Paralyzed Veterans of America, putting our heads together, I know that, just like me with that bow, we will come up with new ways to get veterans back to work.”

By 2005, a long-term service injury finally left Peyton paralyzed on one side. The obstacles she encountered just getting through each day made her focus on how to assist veterans with limited mobility and medical challenges that stopped them from working full or even part-time jobs. “I wanted to combat the ‘hero to zero’ effect,” Peyton says, “especially for service-disabled veterans.”

She decided to build on YEU’s existing structure, turning it into an organization dedicated to putting veterans—especially veterans with disabilities—to work. “There’s a terrific need,” she notes, pointing to a recent Department of Labor report that showed returning veterans have a two-thirds higher unemployment rate than the regular population.

“When you go to job fairs, they tell you to go to Internet and file your résumé, but you get no result,” she says. “For a regular person, this is devastating. For someone with disabilities, they just give up. We don’t work that way.”

YEU uses group meetings and social media to get the word to veterans at home and in hospitals about how to do business with the federal government and create jobs for themselves and others. “There are contracts out there worth $3,000 to $5 million,” Peyton says. “Veterans should be able to benefit from them,” either through their own small businesses, by partnering with nonveteran businesses or by sharing positions with others.

Although a small organization, YEU leverages its relationships with the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Labor and Education and the Small Business Administration and other federal agencies, as well as veterans service organizations and local businesses, to access information, expertise and technology. The group also works with Paralyzed Veterans’ Operation: PAVE (Paving Access to Veterans Employment) to identify issues and opportunities. At the request of company commanders in the Great Lakes area, it has also provided counseling on how vets can diversify talents and create jobs for themselves.

Most recently, YEU participated in the National Veterans Small Business Conference in New Orleans. “We identified $250 million in contracts,” Peyton exults. “Now we just have to help veterans in business to get those contracts and create those jobs!”

Lee Fleming is a writer based in Washington, DC, whose articles appear in national publications and on the Web.


I have functioned as a Business and Media Consultant over the past sixteen years and spent many years developing my capacity to function in our ever evolving use of technology, communication, education and training.