10.28.14: Grand Rapids Conference to help Veteran business owners
(Mlive)-A statewide conference to help veteran-owned small businesses connect with Michigan companies is making its first appearance in Grand Rapids.
The ninth annual Veterans Business Conference on Wednesday will connect military veterans who own businesses with government and corporate procurement decision-makers.
“Many veteran-owned companies focus on government contracting, but there is another world available in the corporate sector,” said Matt Sherwood, executive director of VetBiz Central Inc., which organizes the annual Michigan conference.
The day-long conference, at Crowne Plaza Hotel, 5700 28th St. SE, features morning educational sessions and meet-and-greet sessions in the afternoon.
Battle Creek food giant Kellogg’s is the platinum sponsor of the event that has drawn major companies from across the state, including General Motors, Herman Miller, DTE Energy and AT&T, along with the purchasing departments of the city of Grand Rapids, Kent County and Michigan State University.
“It’s growing movement that corporate America is seeking to engage more veterans into their supply chains,” Sherwood said.
VetBiz Central helps vets start and run businesses.
The Flint-based nonprofit serves Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Nationally, 16 percent of small businesses are owned and operated by military veterans. There are more than 1,100 disabled veteran-owned businesses across Michigan.
Typically, if a veteran business hits the two-year mark, its chances of success double, Sherwood said.
Many of the veteranowned businesses are franchises because they are a good fit for those with military training, which instills leadership, discipline, attention to detail and following the mission through until the end.
“We like our checklists, our structure,” Sherwood said. “We like essentially having the structure within the business model of a franchise. It’s really providing you with the recipe and you get to make the cake.”
IN THEIR CORNER
Herman Miller recently expanded its diversity supplier program to include veteran-owned businesses. An employee-led committee goes beyond that goal to provide mentoring to small businesses even if they aren’t ready to supply the Zeeland-based office furniture maker, which does about $3 billion in sales annually.
Kavy Lenon, senior supplier diversity manager at Herman Miller, is part of the committee.
“A lot of times, they might not be a good fit for Herman Miller, but they might be a good fit for each other and other companies,” Lenon said.
In fiscal 2013, the company spent $109 million, or 16 percent of its total purchasing, with businesses that were owned by minorities, women, LGBT and military veterans.