Network teaches veterans to climb the business ladder

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Friday, December 15, 2023
Network teaches veterans to climb the business ladder
Network teaches veterans to climb the business ladder

CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. (WPVI) -- A local program is giving veterans a chance to explore business careers after the military.

And one part is modeled after a hit TV show.

"Good morning, everyone," says Caleb Hoppes of the Hanlon Company, calling the morning meeting to order.

It's another full house for the Veteran Business Referral Network.

Almost every month, the Greater Philadelphia Veterans Network gets veterans looking for new opportunities, and business owners looking for new talent, to connect through 30-second pitches.

"I'm the VA loan guy," says one attendee.

"I just got out of the Army and I am currently working at Citibank in their TTS tech," notes a young veteran.

"How can I help you - any veterans or transitioning veterans interested in emerging tech? I'd love to connect you to people in my network," says Air Force reserve vet Alissa Vandebunte of ZeroEyes.

Alex Archawski founded the Veterans Network after seeing a big need as he went from uniform to civilian work - twice.

"Where are the veterans so we can connect with them about job opportunities, and help each other continue to thrive outside the military?" Archawski says.

The group's motto is "our tools, your mission."

"So everybody wants a job, but who wants to work to get the job? We can provide the tools, but you have to provide the mission," he says.

Interview skills are one of those tools.

In speed interviews, the GPVN teaches student veterans to pitch their talents quickly and feel less awkward about promoting themselves.

"In the military, we were told what to do. We were given orders on how to proceed from morning to the end of the day, how to turn on the light, how to turn off the light," notes Archawski. "When you get out of the military, what I saw was people were actively busy in business, but how do you succeed and grow."

Entrepreneurship is a big focus, especially for tech-savvy younger veterans.

Rodney Hall, Navy veteran and founder of R.B. Hall Associates, says the internet and social media have opened new avenues for veterans.

"It gives people the opportunity to create things on their own," Hall says.

He entered the world of IT in the Navy, assisting in a computerization project. In civilian life, he founded his own company, which helps small businesses thrive through technology.

Workshops, and the annual Veteran Shark Tank competition, have given boosts to veteran-owned start-ups like Houwzer, NeuroFlow, J-Dog, and ZeroEyes.

Archawski says the Shark Tank inventions show how vital veterans are to business in greater Philadelphia.

"We need our community to know our strengths," he says.

John Piekarski, a Navy veteran, has a 20% veteran workforce in his construction company.

Piekarski says that the workforce is more cohesive and focused because of the former service members now on his team.