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Taking Care of Business Every Day for Veterans

NONPROFITS: The Rosie Network Brings Entrepreneurs’ Dreams to Life

With two young children at home and a washing machine that had sprung a leak, Stephanie Brown found herself in dire need of a plumber.

Her husband Tom would routinely be the one to address home appliance malfunctions, but at the time of the issue, he was deployed as part of his work in the military as a U.S. Navy Sea Air and Land (SEAL) team member.

So Brown did what many people do to find a good repair person – she looked for direction and suggestions for home service professionals through Craigslist and Angie’s List (now known as Angi).

Stephanie Brown
The Rosie Network

“They felt strange, and I remember I thought at the time, ‘Why isn’t there a list of veteran-owned companies?’ I wanted to patronize a veteran-owned business,” Brown said. “We know that statistically, 70% of consumers prefer to buy from a veteran, according to NAVOBA (National Veteran Owned Business Association). It’s about the trust. And why wouldn’t I want to support those who have served?”

Brown said she spent eight months in 2011 and 2012 having conversations with hundreds of people about this very thing, which led her to create a network called Rosie’s List, with the inspirational “Rosie the Riveter” character as its brand. It is now the nation’s largest free search tool and database featuring only verified veteran and military spouse-owned businesses, with nearly 40,000 listings.

Assisting Budding Entrepreneurs

That push to patronize vets and military-spouse owned businesses spurred Brown to start The Rosie Network, the San Diego-headquartered nonprofit that empowers, impacts and advocates on behalf of veteran and military spouse small business owners and budding entrepreneurs.

Since 2012 The Rosie Network has been helping address the growing unemployment rates of transitioning service members, spouses of military members and veterans, via specialized training and entrepreneurial advocacy and programs.

Its individualized curriculum, called Service2CEO, brings in subject matter experts, teachers, mentors and successful business leaders as part of a free 12-week, 8-module curriculum that includes facilitated group meetings, small classes and supportive online learning. Service2CEO is an office incubator that is part of a Military Entrepreneur Development Center. It also counts toward college credit.

“Some days I’m stunned at the impact we make when a cohort graduates and they present their pitch after going through the program and building it,” Brown said. “The sense of pride and accomplishment, the hope. The excitement is absolutely overwhelming. We graduate about 1,500 people a year and have a waiting list right now is at 172.”

Operating in 39 States

While its most significant footprint is in San Diego County, The Rosie Network reaches 39 states and is in five countries.

Brown, 60, grew up in a military family – her father was a 20-year Vietnam veteran. Working as a small-business owner in Washington, D.C., Brown later met and married a career SEAL, which eventually resulted in a move to Coronado and then Alpine. After 30 years in the military, Rear Admiral Tom Brown, retired and passed away two years ago. Brown said her husband was a dedicated supporter of The Rosie Network.

“We’re all about small business,” she said. “Our primary goal is to help launch small businesses – veteran-, military spouse- and military family-owned businesses here in San Diego. We all know that if you don’t have a financially stable family, it’s really hard to take care of your kids, to feed your dog or cat, to support yourself. That’s why what we do is so important.”

She said she got validation of the importance and the impact of The Rosie Network several years ago.

Just before she started The Rosie Network, Brown said that she and her husband were being given a tour of military housing in San Diego. At the time, she noticed a long line of military families standing outside on a sidewalk.

“There had to be 100 family members there,” she said. “I turned to the housing manager and asked, ‘What’s going on?’ and thinking it was a line to get into a party. Her answer was, ‘These people are in line for the “free bread truck.”’ Well, I about fell over.”

Brown said she started talking to a woman in her 20s with two children whose husband was deployed. Like the others, she was waiting for bread as well as more groceries and staples. Brown said the woman told her she had a college degree and couldn’t find a job.

“She started her own business,” Brown said. “She was working out of her house but she had no computer. She would go to library on base and run her business using a computer at the library. Talk about bleeping determined! I was blown away. That was the kick in the pants for me to get The Rosie Network up and going.”

The Rosie Network

FOUNDER AND CEO: Stephanie Brown
BUSINESS: Nonprofit veteran service organization
BUDGET: $800,000
WEBSITE: therosienetwork.org
CONTACT: lsublett@therosienetwork.org
SOCIAL IMPACT: 84 percent of people served by The Rosie Network are women veterans and/or military spouses.
NOTABLE: In eight years, 84 percent of “Service to CEO” graduates are still in business.


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