West Virginia has an untapped market of entrepreneurs just waiting to be called into action.
The Mountain State is home to thousands of men and women who served in the military. And Forge, a Morgantown-based business strategy firm, believes these veterans have the proven strength, endurance, and wisdom to start and lead companies that help redefine the state and create opportunities here at home.
“As a certified veteran-owned enterprise, we are committed to helping veterans follow their dreams of starting their own company, working for themselves and forging their own future,” Forge President and CEO Frank Vitale said. “Part of our mission is to elevate our fellow veterans and bring recognition to the value they have as business owners and leaders.”
Vitale said the qualities that help men and women flourish in the military are the same qualities that can help them succeed as entrepreneurs: Courage. Determination. Discipline. They have a willingness to go where others won’t, and do what others can’t.
“They are natural leaders who evaluate situations and don’t give up. The tenacity required to make it through boot camp or specialized service training is the same doggedness an entrepreneur needs when starting or growing a business,” he said.
And the Mountain State is an ideal place to do it.
West Virginia has the sixth highest number of veterans per capita in the country, at 7,043 veterans per 100,000 people.1 In real numbers, the state is home to approximately 135,190 veterans, most of whom served in the Vietnam War and Gulf War.2
In addition to having a large veteran population, West Virginia has a lot of small businesses. Approximately 98 percent of the state’s employers are considered small businesses, and combined, they employ almost half of the state’s workforce, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.3
“The whole state benefits when we support and help our fellow small businesses,” Vitale said.
Vitale, who served more than 17 years in the U.S. Army and West Virginia National Guard,
understands the struggles of starting and growing a business. He started Forge nearly six years ago after working in the banking, healthcare, and technology sectors. His vision was to create a company that helped other businesses with strategic planning, community relations, and organizational growth and development. Since its inception, Forge has worked with a number of clients ranging from non-profits to mid-sized health and technology companies. But one of Vitale’s deepest passions is working with veterans and helping them follow their entrepreneurial dreams.
Forge partnered with West Virginia University, Syracuse University, and the D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families on a Small Business Administration Community Navigator Pilot Program to help veterans and/or their spouses navigate the path to becoming entrepreneurs. As part of that program, Forge hopes to assist small and start-up businesses through consulting, training, and business planning.
“Forge was the first certified veteran-owned business in the state by the National Veteran-Owned Business Association, and since then, I have served on NaVOBA’s board to help ensure more veterans have the tools and assistance they need to follow their dreams of business ownership,” Vitale said.
The SBA, IVMF and WVU have several programs to help former servicemen and women, as well as their spouses, with writing business plans, securing financing, and launching a business. Vitale hopes Forge, WVU, and the various community partners can serve as guides for entrepreneurs, linking them to available resources and helping them determine which programs might be most helpful.
“Our goal is to serve as a conduit between entrepreneurs and local organizations, business services and institutions that share interests and passions,” Vitale said. “By working with local Chambers of Commerce, we hope to link veterans with lenders, accountants, lawyers, and others in their community to help them grow their businesses.”
“This effort really can be as easy as neighbors helping neighbors,” he added.
THE NEXT STEPS
Forge’s dedication to helping veteran-owned businesses isn’t just limited to start-ups.
As a recipient of the Seven Seals Award from the military’s Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve, Forge understands the unique challenges facing entrepreneurs, especially if they are Reservists or Guard members. Annual training and drills must be taken into consideration. Plus, business owners must develop a plan for their business to survive if their Guard or Reserve unit is activated or deployed.
“We know how important it is for any business, and particularly veteran-owned small businesses, to plan for the unexpected while taking care of their customers and trying to grow their operation,” said Forge Senior Strategist Richard Robison, a retired naval officer and Naval Academy graduate with more than 30 years of program management experience in the defense and aerospace communities. “That’s not easy with limited time and resources. It requires leadership, focus, a recognition of the need to understand the economic and market environment, and personal commitment to take on development of a viable and resilient business strategy that plans for growth while accommodating those uncertainties. That’s where Forge comes in. We have the framework, the resources, and the experience to assist companies with planning efforts so they don’t have to make the hard choice between serving their country or serving their customers.”
Veteran-owned businesses, or VOBs, often are eligible for certain tax credits, as well as opportunities to buy surplus property from the government or compete for federal contracts. In fact, a percentage of federal contracts each year must be awarded to businesses owned by veterans. Forge helps businesses register as contractors through the federal System for Award Management and identify opportunities that match their capabilities.
Veterans and their spouses sacrifice so much for the greater good of our nation and her citizens. That dedication to duty, integrity, ethics, honor, courage and loyalty don’t just disappear when enlistment ends or retirement begins. It is part of the core of every man and woman who serves our nation. With the right idea, and with the right help, those core values can help veterans forge a new career as entrepreneurs, as well.
Written by Beth Ryan, Communications Director at FORGE. Originally posted by The Morgantown Area Partnership on March 20, 2023