Office of Veterans Business Development

Empowering Women Veteran Entrepreneurs: From Military Spouse to Vice President

Every day, we, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD), work to empower military spouse, service member, and veteran business ownership. In honor of Military Spouse Appreciation Day, we wanted to highlight the success military spouses are achieving in the veteran entrepreneurship space. 

Today, we’re highlighting the story of Martha Weekley, Vice President of Contract Relations for FFE, Inc. FFE is a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) providing engineering and technical services, focused on innovative facility and process design with an emphasis on healthcare facilities. Although her husband, a service-disabled former Army Engineer, retains full ownership, operation, and control of the business, Weekley’s position as Vice President is a key component in the survivability and success of FFE.

Weekley knew their decision to transition into business ownership post-service was the right choice for their family based on four main determining factors: age, stage in life, other obligations, and most importantly, the inclination to want your own business. As a former Army engineer and military spouse, the Weekleys’ spousal partnership translated seamlessly into business ownership.

“We’ve devoted a big chunk of our lives to this business,” says Weekley. “If you and your spouse aren’t both on board, this could be a huge conflict. You have to have the inclination to want to do everything that owning a business entails.”              

Working Together Toward Service-Disabled Veteran Business Ownership

During active duty, Weekley and her husband spent most of their time between Fort Belvoir and Heidelberg, Germany. Having spent three years at the U.S. base in Heidelberg, Weekley cites moving overseas as a great way for military spouses to gain the confidence needed to launch or support an entrepreneurial venture.

“Moving overseas, you need to just jump in and make your life. With no family around, you need to assume a lot of roles and take care of yourself,” says Weekley. “Small business is the same way. You have to wear a lot of hats and just jump in. You have to have a bit of confidence in this regard.”

Now located in Cincinnati, Weekley and her husband originally moved to Ohio on a 15-year project with the Department of Energy. As circumstances began to change, the couple decided they could either move or create their own path. For her husband, starting a business had always been a lifelong goal.

The couple’s complementary skillsets – Weekley’s background in accounting and outsource purchasing and her husband’s background in Army Engineering – heavily influenced the decision to launch FEE. Her husband predominantly handles the ownership and engineering facets of FFE, while Weekley handles all administration, including business development, teaming arrangements, finances, and marketing. Through their partnership, the Weekleys recognized an area for both development and great potential: government contracting.

                “As a small business, we don’t have in-house expertise for legal, accounting, and HR issues that are specific to government contracting,” says Weekley. “In government contracting, compliance and always being knowledgeable about contracting regulations is key. Strategic teaming is also vital for a small business. I realized we needed to strengthen our operations in this area.”

                Following a string of conversations with Barbara Ashe, Director and Founder of the Veteran Institute for Procurement (VIP), Weekley enrolled in the VIP program in October 2014. The course provided Weekley with invaluable knowledge that the couple has implemented within the operation of FFE.

                “The broad curriculum taught through VIP let us know what we didn’t know,” says Weekley. “What you’re not aware of can be your biggest downfall or your biggest asset. The VIP program created awareness that business operation is multidimensional. It is never enough to just create a winning proposal – you have to be able to nurture all facets to be successful.”

                Incorporating tangible lessons – such as adopting a practice of teaming based on client needs – has placed FFE in an advantageous position in the Federal procurement sphere. From IDIQ contract proposals to DCAA audit compliance, Weekley attributes the company’s contracting growth to VIP and its expansive network of veteran business owners. In the two years immediately following Weekley’s VIP graduation, FFE witnessed a 400% growth in revenue.

You Can Never Know Too Much
Advice for Other Military Spouse Entrepreneurs

  • Do your homework before launching your business. Military spouses can tap into local, regional, and national resources through one of the Veteran Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) located across the nation. From counseling and training to information on access to capital, VBOCs provide military spouses, veterans, and service members with the priming information they need before pursuing entrepreneurship. As Weekley advises, “Really do your homework in your industry so your eyes are wide open and you know what you’re getting into. You can never know too much.”
  • Veteran business ownership is multidimensional. There were several components to business operation – especially as applied to Government contracting – that Weekley says she was unaware of prior to attending VIP. Ensure you are leveraging a variety of resources – from VIP to entrepreneurial training courses – to increase exposure to all facets of running a business.
  • Tap into your veteran network. “The veteran business community is stronger as a whole when individual companies are strengthened. The community that VIP provides was of help recently when pursuing a contract as I need to fill a role with an SDVOSB company,” says Weekley. “I drew on my experience at VIP to reach out to a classmate – and was able to successfully win the work because of the network I had built upon my VIP attendance.”

If you’re a military spouse, veteran, or service member interested in starting, purchasing, or growing a business, tap into OVBD’s resource network today. For more information on the Veteran Institute for Procurement – and how your veteran-owned business can excel in the government contracting sphere – visit www.nationalvip.org.