U.S. Military Spouse Chamber of Commerce Founders talk supporting entrepreneurship among a unique demographic

Jaime Chapman and Stephanie Brown are on a mission to empower military spouses. Both military spouses themselves, the two founded and run the U.S. Military Spouse Chamber of Commerce. Here they talk with Women on the Move Host Sam Saperstein about the unique challenges facing military spouses, why the population is often drawn to entrepreneurship, and the work the Chamber is doing to foster military spouse entrepreneurs.

Relocation, pay disparities, and other facts of military life

Jaime and Stephanie both describe their own journeys as military spouses. Stephanie tells Sam that she was a business owner in Washington, DC, more than two decades ago when she met her late husband, got married, and moved overseas. “I very quickly became unemployed and unemployable,” she says. Jaime had served in the Army Reserves for six years and thought she was done with the military when she “married into the army” nearly seven years ago.

Before they knew each other, both women shared the experience of learning how difficult it was to maintain their professional careers as military spouses, and both were involved in the world of entrepreneurship. Many factors combine to make employment complicated for military spouses: they relocate a lot, there’s often a lack of affordable—or any—childcare, and there’s often a lack of family or friends to help out due to the relocations. On top of that, they note, there’s a big disparity in pay between military spouses and other civilians.

Perhaps because of these factors, military spouses have a particularly high rate of entrepreneurship. Both Stephanie and Jaime were entrepreneurs with a passion for helping others, and the two were initially brought together by a mutual colleague who recruited first Stephanie and then Jaime to work on a Military Spouse Entrepreneur Task Force. It was while working on that task force that the idea of the Military Spouse Chamber of Commerce first came to Stephanie. “I one day said to Jaime and [another colleague], you know, we really need to have a military spouse chamber of commerce because I've been working on this certification for military spouse–owned businesses for a long time with USAA and we need a forum through which we can provide this certification and really change things for spouses and small business owners,” she recalls.

Launching a network for military spouse entrepreneurs

The two women launched the U.S. Military Spouse Chamber of Commerce in 2020. As Stephanie describes, gaining recognized certification of military spouse-owned business was a driving force. “So what we began doing is researching how other third parties and the Veterans Administration actually reviewed and certified veteran-owned service, disabled veteran owned, minority owned, women owned, et cetera. And so we took those best practices and narrowed it down and kind of customized it for the lifestyle of the military spouse.”

Another key aim of the organization, Jaime explains, was to help military spouse entrepreneurs with essential business functions like setting up retirement plans and employee benefits for themselves and their employees. “Because the first thing you should be asking when you're self-employed is, how do I save for retirement?” she notes. “But most people are more worried about setting up their website and logo and getting their business off the ground and marketing it when they should be thinking about taking care of themselves.”

Today, Jaime notes, the Chamber has 1,100 military spouse members spread across 35 states in five countries running businesses ranging from artisanal handmade products to multi-seven-figure firms. The organization is involved in several legislative initiatives, including a push to streamline occupational licensing for relocating spouses. But Stephanie says one of the biggest benefits has been the recognition of the value of the community. “I think we also are beginning to recognize that there is a huge network out there of other military spouse, business owners that we can turn to, to collaborate, to mentor, which is really kind of the secret sauce,” she says.

In terms of how others can support military spouses (and, in turn, support veterans and active military members, who also benefit from their spouses’ success), the two suggest a two-pronged approach. First, doing business with certified military spouse–owned businesses, either as an individual or as a business hiring contractors, helps them succeed. And second, anybody can support military spouse–owned businesses by seeking them out and buying from them.

 

Full transcript here 

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