Two weeks ago, an op-ed published on the Huffington Post by a coalition of military spouse entrepreneurs shook up the military community. The coalition, calling themselves MusterUp, explained the numerous obstacles that milspouse entrepreneurs face when living–or trying to sell– on base, and then they set forth concrete steps the military can take to be more accommodating. Finally, they asked the military community and supporters to sign a petition in favor of those suggestions and solutions.
We asked one of the leaders, Janine Boldrin, co-owner of Chameleon Kids and Creative Director of the popular Military Kids’ Life magazine, to explain more about the movement.
1. Can you lift the curtain and tell us who is behind MusterUp?
MusterUp was created by three military spouse entrepreneurs, myself, Erica McMannes and Lauren Rothlisberger, in response to the numerous times people had talked to us, as fellow entrepreneurs, about the barriers they face in having a transportable business in the military community. The biggest obstacle they often faced was, ironically, the military and the vague processes associated with owning a home based business on post.
2. Entrepreneurs are all about elevator pitches. Can you give us the initiative’s elevator pitch?
The goal of MusterUp is to create clearer, quicker, and more military-family friendly processes for approving home-based businesses owned by military spouses who live on military installations.
3. We hear the buzzwords and phrases all the time, but really, why should the military community– or civilian world– care about military spouse entrepreneurs?
Military spouse entrepreneurs make military families economically strong; additionally, for some military spouses, having a fulfilling career can help them create a happier, stronger, more focused military family, which better ensures a service member can perform his/her duty as best as he/she can. Feeling fulfilled encourages a family to stay in the military and embrace the lifestyle it requires.
4. Why should the military community support the petition and the MusterUp initiative? What’s the reaction been to MusterUp so far?
The number of service members who leave the military because of the lack of employment for their spouse is a significant problem for the military. They are often losing great service members to a problem that can be easily solved by the military itself. This is NOT a hard problem to solve. As is stated in The Huffington Post piece that we co-authored, there are easy solutions as long as we don’t get bogged down in more studies and statistics. I am certain the civilian world is vested in a strong military, and the military can better retain strong service members if their family is onboard with the circumstances their service necessitates.
The reaction to www.MusterUp.co has been 99.9% positive. I want to make it clear: we are trying to alleviate the burden on commanders who are now a part of this approval process by giving them clear guidelines and by pushing the burden of decision making up the chain versus down to the installation level. The stories we are getting through www.MusterUp.co confirm that there is a systemic problem with this issue that needs to be solved. The website is giving a home to these stories so we can provide validation that this is a problem and then move forward with bringing our solutions to key decision makers.
5. What obstacles do you see military spouse entrepreneurs coming up against?
There are no military-wide approval processes or guidelines for operating a home-based business on post. Yet, these businesses are required by the military to register with the installation. Because of this, decisions are made on an installation-to-installation basis.
Military spouses who live on post are told again and again to wait long periods of time for approval to operate a business out of their quarters and, for many, the approval never comes. In the meantime, military spouses are told to cease operation of their thriving and successful, income-earning businesses until they receive approval. No successful business model supports a cycle of 4 to 6 week closures every 2 to 3 years.
And be sure to check out the stories being shared on www.MusterUp.co to read more specific stories.
6. In MusterUp’s Huffington Post article, the authors specifically call out the DoD’s regulations surrounding AAFES as a hindrance to military-connected entrepreneurs. Can you give us the scoop on how military spouses are affected and what needs to change?
AAFES is part of the review process for military spouse entrepreneurs working on post, as also referenced in this article on SpouseBuzz.
I have heard of very few times when they have not raised an objection to a home based business because of perceived competition with a product or service provided by AAFES. AAFES would much rather a spouse rent a kiosk in the AAFES mall and pay a portion of their profit to AAFES then have them operate out of their home. This part of the review process should absolutely be removed. Would Target want Walmart to be allowed to refuse them from setting up business? This truly conflicts with the free-market spirit in America.
7. What are the concrete suggestions and solutions MusterUp has for the military community?
Here are the suggestions and solutions we are offering up. We started with the Army because it’s the biggest and the branch we are most familiar with – our hope is that it is the model for replication within the other services because we KNOW that this isn’t only an Army problem. Next up should be better addressing OCONUS issues with military spouse owned businesses.
Establish an Army-wide approval process for home-based businesses that has a shorter timeline, is easy to navigate, has fewer touches by government on-post agencies.
Establish an Army-wide CONUS list of home based businesses that do not require approval through the local command structure for operation in housing.
Establish an Army-wide CONUS list of home based businesses that require approval for operating in housing.
Establish an Army-wide CONUS list of home based businesses that are prohibited from operating on post.
Get national acceptance from AAFES with an agreement that home based businesses do not compete with AAFES to avoid “do not recommend” decisions, since these denials have consistently come from AAFES during the approval process and have ultimately hindered approval.
Once a business has been approved on one installation, do not require approval at subsequent installations unless home inspections are required or there are state specific issues.
Establish an Army-wide business review process that requires approval within a two-week (maximum) timeframe. Consider ways this approval process can be initiated prior to arrival on post to expedite the timeline for businesses that do not require a home inspection.
Maintain metrics for the home-based business approval process to track the timeline for approval. This is a family quality of life issue that impacts the financial readiness of military families. If someone is not held accountable for the process, as in the past, there will fail to be any real change.
INCLUDE military spouse stakeholders in the discussion and creation of these above lists.
8. For those interested, how can the military community get involved in MusterUp?
SIGN the petition at www.MusterUp.co! We need about 500 more signatures before we take this forward in a more formal way to decision makers. Let’s make this change happen, not only for our current military spouse entrepreneurs, but also for those who follow them. Our predecessors did a lot of heavy lifting for us – we need to shoulder the burden of continuing to make positive change.
9. In the meantime, what resources and suggestions do you have for frustrated military spouse entrepreneurs?
Join a military spouse entrepreneur group. I suggest the MilSpo Project; I’m a local chapter leader. Learn from others who have been in your shoes about how they are making their business work. Also, tell your story! It is important that people know that this is a problem so that it will be addressed. This can be done through guest posts on blogs, articles in military focused magazines, and letters to the editor in newspapers in military communities. Believe that change can happen because it really can, but only if we are all working to make it happen.