Small Business Development Center
WATERTOWN – The U.S. Small Business Administration recently celebrated the accomplishments of veteran entrepreneurs during the third annual National Veterans Small Business Week in several events in Washington, D.C.
Entrepreneurship provides an opportunity for many military service members to use the skills they obtained in the service while helping to grow the American economy.
An important part of that process is the Boots to Business training course, which has been offered at military bases nationwide since 2013. To date, the program has provided training to more than 30,000 veterans and spouses as they transition from military to civilian life.
This year, the SBA recognized five instructors from across the nation as “Boots to Business” Instructors of the Year, including Robin Stephenson, an advanced certified business adviser for the New York Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College, Watertown.
She and the other award recipients were honored for “their expertise, their dedication and for their skill at inspiring so many veterans to pursue their dream of business ownership.”
Stephenson presents the Boots to Business program on Fort Drum to transitioning Soldiers and spouses on a monthly basis through the Soldier for Life - Transition Assistance Program.
She said she was “totally surprised” to be named a Boots to Business Instructor of the Year.
“Having the support of my organization and Fort Drum makes my job easy, rewarding, and thus this award attainable,” she said.
Before the Boots to Business program, Stephenson and the New York SBDC had already been offering a three-hour entrepreneurship training seminar on a quarterly basis at Fort Drum.
As the demand for entrepreneurial training increased, Stephenson began presenting a two-hour briefing on business startup. When the Boots to Business program launched in 2013, she was able to make the transition go smoothly, allowing Fort Drum to have the new program “go live” more than a full year ahead of many other locations.
“I love what I do and am very passionate about the programs I have presented over the years on Fort Drum,” Stephenson said. “Working with Soldiers and their Families has always been rewarding. Someone once told me that I do too much for my veterans and their Families, but I don't feel I do enough in comparison to what they do in their jobs.
“Having the support of Lorrie Guler, Soldier for Life manager, and Amanda Thompson, Employee Readiness (Program) manager at Army Community Service has enabled me to reach out to those Soldiers and their Families who are looking at entrepreneurship as an option for them,” she added.
Stephenson currently spends several days a month at Fort Drum working with the Soldier for Life - Transition Assistance Program. In addition, she offers a monthly two-hour briefing called “Build Your Own Business” to military spouses new to the area who want information on starting a business. Stephenson also participates in on-post job fairs and community events that offer Soldiers and spouses an opportunity to learn about self-employment.
“It is very meaningful to be able to give them the basic tools to pursue this wherever their lives take them when they leave Fort Drum,” she said. “Whether they stay in the area or go elsewhere, I can direct them to the SBDC program in their backyard. Knowing they have reliable resources that can them assist them gives me peace of mind.”
Stephenson noted that the SBDC services are available to the public at no charge.
“Most entrepreneurs aren’t aware that these services exist and are free to anyone interested in starting or growing a business,” she added.
Eric Constance, regional SBDC director and Stephenson’s supervisor, said this is the second time that the Watertown SBDC at JCC has received national recognition.
“The first time was in 2010 when we received top honors as being the No. 1 SBDC in the nation out of over 1,000 SBDCs,” Constance said, “and then today, Robin Stephenson, advanced certified business adviser with the Watertown SBDC, being selected as one of the top five instructors across the nation who assist Soldiers transitioning out of the military who are looking to start their own businesses. Job well done, Robin."
Stephenson joined the New York Small Business Development Center in Watertown as office manager in 1989 and became a business adviser in 2005. She received her advanced certification in 2012, based on her veteran counseling specialty, which included government contracting and veteran services.
For several years, she coordinated the “Selling to the Government” networking conference on the Jefferson Community College campus. This event matched small businesses with prime contractors, local, state and federal government agencies, and other potential purchasing agents.
A native of northern New York, Stephenson earned an associate degree in business from Jefferson Community College and a bachelor of science degree in business from the State University of New York at Oswego.