A business pitch contest for women vets


Capital One Financial Corp. signage is displayed outside of a bank branch in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011. (Paul Taggart/BLOOMBERG)

Angela Cody-Rouget talks about Major Mom, her Denver, Colo.-based organizing business virtually every day, but it’s rarely in front of a large group.

Last week, the retired Air Force major put her nerves aside and pitched the business plan for her six-year-old company to a group of women veteran entrepreneurs and military spouses as part of a pitch contest, held at Capital One Financial Corporation’s headquarters in McLean.

For the most part, audience feedback for Cody-Rouget’s two-minute pitch was positive. After she described her business helping busy moms organize their homes — 14 employees, taking in $350,000 a year in revenue — many audience members told her she’d done a great job and that she’d been very clear. But others pointed out how she should have explained how to scale her business. (She plans to hire one new employee in each state over the next few years.)

The contest was organized by Capital One in partnership with Count Me In, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to women’s economic development which frequently holds pitch competitions. Out of the 40 or so competing women, 26 entrepreneurs were selected to participate in Count Me In’s six-month business accelerator program. The contest, part of a two-day business development conference called the Women Veteran Entrepreneur Corps, was funded by a $800,000 commitment from Capital One to Count Me In.

Cody-Rouget, among the selected winners, said opportunities to socialize with other women veteran entrepreneurs are very rare, which is why she made the trek to McLean from her home in Colorado.

“You’re trained in the military to not think of yourself as special. To highlight yourself isn’t culturally acceptable,” she said.

Herndon resident Lisa Rosser, also among the winners, pitched a business plan for her four-year-old military veteran recruitment firm, The Value of a Veteran. She said she spent four or five hours working on her two-minute pitch.

“I was already comfortable succinctly getting to what the organization does, and articulating my strategy in two minutes,” she said, but added after the contest, “I have to work hard on slowing down under pressure.”

The retired Army lieutenant colonel actively sought out the pitch contest and other similar sessions to gain an “outsider’s perspective” on her plan, because she didn’t get business training in the military.

“Military people tend to be confident in areas where they have the expertise, but they don’t teach business in the military,” she said. “Coming out of the military, very rarely do you know exactly what you’re going to do next. Ultimately, you will figure it out, and it’s the same thing with business.”

Nell Merlino, president and chief executive of Count Me In, said she found the veteran women entrepreneurs in the pitch contest to be generally “more confident than women who have not been associated with the military,”­ and more likely than other entrepreneurs to make use of feedback about their pitches.

But she found persistent challenges affecting many women entrepreneurs were also visible in veteran women’s pitches — for example, about half the veterans did not mention specific financial figures in their pitches. “Women would rather talk about how much they weigh than how much they’re making, and they don’t want to talk about how much they weigh,” Merlino said.

While many women had profitable businesses, Merlino noticed they undervalued the importance of a clear pitch, useful both for securing investors and clients, and instead focused on refining their business operations.

“They don’t always appreciate that every time you open our mouth is an opportunity to sell.”

Mohana Ravindranath covers IT and small business for the Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication.
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