Kim D'Auria-Vazira visits with veteran entrepreneur Mojisola Edu, with Lamb Professional Services during the second annual Veterans Day Showcase at the Dog Tag Bakery in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, November 9. Photo by Pete MarovichPhoto by Pete Marovich

D.C. area program provides vehicle for veterans to put skills into context

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The American Legion attended Dog Tag Bakery’s second annual Veterans Day Showcase on Nov. 9 in Washington, D.C., where local veterans and military spouses showcased their products and services to help expand the community’s awareness of military entrepreneurs.

“This was an event that was created and conceived by our fellows last year as a way to mark Veterans Day,” said Lolly Rivas, director of development at Dog Tag Bakery, Inc. “For Dog Tag, it was a way to give back to the local community of veteran entrepreneurs.”

Dog Tag Bakery empowers transitioning service-disabled veterans, military spouses and caregivers to discover personal and professional fulfillment in the civilian world through an innovative five-month business and entrepreneurship-focused fellowship program.

The linchpin of the program is Dog Tag Bakery, a two-level, 4,200-square-foot storefront facility located in the heart of Georgetown in Washington, D.C. The program provides a vehicle for veterans to put their newly-acquired skills into context. Veterans not only learn every aspect of a small business from operation to marketing, but also take part in learning labs, according to Dog Tag’s website.

“This year, we really made an effort to reach out to some more local veteran entrepreneurs,” Rivas said. “One of the hallmarks of our program is that it’s a very diverse group – we’ve got military spouses, we’ve got caregivers, and we’ve got veterans from all different branches and of all different ranks. We really try to create a community that supports and celebrates all of the different military branches and experiences that are represented in our program.”

By offering four different working rotations through the storefront and nonprofit positions, Rivas said Dog Tag goes beyond education and job training to ensure the fellows are fully supported and become leaders in their chosen fields. 

“This year, two of our fellows are representing businesses they work with,” she said. “We’ve also got some other great organizations including a recruiting and staffing group that does a lot of work with veterans, and actually is the spouse of one of our alumni.”

When it comes to representing a sample of the talent and drive that exists in the veteran community, retired U.S. Army Col. Ty Clifton felt a profound calling to give back by using his leadership and management skills that he acquired from the military.

Clifton, a former senior policy advisor for the Department of Defense, is now living his dream of operating a thriving business in the hospitality industry. As a franchisee for Patrice & Associates, Clifton echoes Dog Tag Bakery's mission to help build a bridge to business employment and a productive civilian life for transitioning servicemembers.

“I’ve been doing this for over a year. Started out as a one-man team and now I have five recruiters working for me to help our veterans,” Clifton said. “We love what we do because we’re placing people in great jobs which provide a better life, better pay, better quality of life and just a better opportunity. I feel like if I’m able to help somebody in our community, then the community prospers.”

Franchising provided the opportunity for Clifton to do just that. The Virginia resident was one of just 100 small business owners selected for the American Small Business – The Engine of the American Dream event at the White House where he met and spoke with President Donald Trump and other officials.

For Clifton, translating one’s military experience into successful entrepreneurial endeavors means pairing veterans like himself with the finest economic opportunities. From hiring and placing veterans to simply lending a hand in networking, he said it’s important to give something back to America’s heroes who have given so much to their country.

“Transitioning from the military into owning your own business, this is a great opportunity for me,” said Clifton, whose wife participated in the Dog Tag Bakery program. “The Army did a great job with the Soldier for Life program, which helped me make that clear transition. They helped me get my business license, set up a good business model and just point me in the right direction.”

Clifton said his advice for other veterans would be to find the franchise that fits their passion and drive. He also encourages them to network with other veteran entrepreneurs and take full advantage of all available resources and services within their community.

“I find myself looking for a job again and needing something to find balance in my family,” said Angelica Arroyo, a military spouse who is the CEO of Valor Marketing and Promotions. “As a mother, professional and wife, having my own business fulfilled that for me. I know what good customer service is like and I know what I wanted to experience when I talked to someone.”

For Arroyo, being able to connect with and form relationship with other like-minded individuals in the military community has impacted her life in a positive way.

“I’m so grateful,” she said. “On the business side of it, it’s such a huge opportunity for me. I know there are people out there looking to support veteran-owned businesses and military-spouse owned businesses. To be able to get out and network is huge.”

“Being an entrepreneur and (active duty) Marine, I’m just hoping that one makes me better at the other,” Mag Mug Equipment Co. President/Owner Nicholas Lozar said. “I never really thought about being an entrepreneur but I had a good idea and the support of my wife to move me along. We’re going to give it a go and see how it works out.”