On August 24, 2023, Business Impact NW hosted its grand opening of the new Alaska Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) in Anchorage, Alaska. More than 100 guests were in attendance, including community leaders, resource partners, government agencies, and elected officials. The grand opening wasn't only ceremonial; it embodied a strong commitment to nurture a thriving business ecosystem for those who selflessly served their country.
The air was charged with excitement as attendees networked and eagerly awaited the unveiling of the new Alaska Veterans Business Outreach Center. Guest speakers included Business Impact NW VP of Military & Contracting Programs Steve Watts-Oelrich, Program Director Traci Willet, Mayor of Anchorage Dave Bronson, Lieutenant Governor Nancy Dahlstrom, and Small Business Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman.
Stewards for Veteran Entrepreneurial Success
For Business Impact NW, the new opening of the Alaska VBOC represents the unveiling of a new chapter in its ongoing mission to foster small business growth. Business Impact NW was one of six organizations to secure the pivotal grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to establish the Alaska Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC). The center will provide an expansive and unparalleled support network for veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs making a transformative economic impact across Alaska.
The grand opening coincided with the SBA’s 70th anniversary which was founded following WWII. SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman says, “Of those men and women in service returning to the US, over half of them were starting businesses in the country. We were founded in a time where veterans were synonymous with entrepreneurs, and they still are today.” She shared how honored the SBA is to support military families achieve the American dream of business ownership. “We always find communities that need to be resilient are the ones that are most deserving and most enriched with resources. They possess such grit and determination; all the natural skill sets around entrepreneurship.”
Red Ribbon of Courage, Valor, and Sacrifice
Business Impact NW was also named one of the SBA's Resource Partners of the Year and received the esteemed Veterans Business Outreach Center Excellence in Service Award. These accolades are a testament to Business Impact NW's resolute dedication to fueling economic growth through entrepreneurship. VP of Military & Contracting Programs and former veteran Steve Watts-Oelrich says Business Impact NW could not be more honored to provide resources and staff to the military community through Alaska VBOC. “There was a reason we chose the red ribbon. It carries profound significance, encapsulating hardiness, courage, and sacrifice. It's a testament to the military community's spirit and the enduring resilience of Alaskans, both Native and Non-Native. After all, resilience is truly at the heart of every Alaskan I've ever met."
Steve Watts-Oelrich thanked the SBA, recognizing its invaluable contributions and dedication to fostering economic opportunity. As well as building a vibrant, inclusive and resilient economy for all Americans. “Good ideas are everywhere, but opportunities are not. The SBA has the opportunity to turn good ideas into great businesses. They have been instrumental in providing unparalleled access to capital for entrepreneurs who face obstacles in securing traditional financing. Thanks to the SBA, small businesses have thrived, creating millions of jobs, economic growth, and the realization of countless American dreams.”
Igniting Entrepreneurship in Alaska
Lieutenant Governor Nancy Dahlstrom says veteran-owned businesses hold a rich legacy of contribution to Alaska's economy. There are over 69,000 small businesses in the state of Alaska. This equates to 96% of all businesses statewide and employing over 141,000 Alaskans. “Small businesses are more than just jobs and the economy. They're part of the fabric of our society. And they're what makes each community feel unique. In fact, Alaska has the highest percentage of veterans per capita with over 8,800 veterans per 100,000. We want to grow successful entrepreneurs because we know that they are problem solvers.”
The Alaska Veterans Business Outreach Center is designed to serve as a haven of resources. It will provide tailored training, counseling, and guidance, all aimed at empowering veterans and military spouses on their entrepreneurial journey. These services encompass personalized business counseling, mentorship, aid in creating business plans, accessing capital, and training workshops on business management. All aimed at helping veterans establish, grow, and manage businesses effectively. The veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs are poised to drive transformative change—acting as both job creators and trailblazers.
Charting a Prosperous Course
Program Director Traci Willet says this is truly a watershed moment for Alaska. As a military spouse and former business owner, Traci says her goal at the new Alaska Veterans Business Outreach Center is to support current and aspiring entrepreneurs taking root within our communities, ultimately giving back to all of Alaskans through their small business endeavors. “This is just the beginning. We're planting the seeds for growth, innovation and entrepreneurship that will shape Alaska's future. My door is always open. I'm here to be your partner, your advocate, and your source of guidance as we navigate the path of entrepreneurship together.”
The Alaska Veterans Business Outreach Center stands as a beacon of optimism. It promises prosperity and empowerment to the small business and military community. This inspiring partnership paves the way for continued success, reminding us that through shared determination, we can achieve remarkable milestones.
About the author
Janelle is a storyteller through and through. She was raised in a family of entrepreneurs who owned and managed a series of small businesses, including a Hawaiian restaurant, a video store, and several real estate properties. Growing up in a low-income community but attending schools as a minority in affluent areas, she struggled with the inequities she faced each day. As a Bay Area native, Janelle has witnessed the rise and fall of countless startups and small businesses. She has worked for a number of nonprofits and has remained steadfast in her commitment to using her craft to support the missions of each organization, and uplift underserved communities throughout the Bay Area.
Janelle graduated with a degree in Creative Writing, specializing in screenwriting and playwriting. She worked as a copywriter for companies such as Coldwell Banker, Callisto Media, a publisher of nonfiction and self-help books, and Artslandia magazine, a premier publisher of performing arts playbills throughout the Portland metro area. In a leap of faith, Janelle moved her family to Seattle in 2021 and worked with Committee for Children, an educational nonprofit committed to supporting the well-being of children through social-emotional learning.