Symposium to highlight how skills women learn in the service translate into entrepreneurship

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Teresa McTavish spent five years as a U.S. Army commissioned officer in Fort Drum, N.Y., and had risen to the rank of captain by the time she exited active duty in early 2000. For three more years, she served as a company commander in the Army National Guard.

Combine that military experience with a mix of jobs she held while her children were young -- including in pharmaceutical sales, insurance sales, and marketing and business development for a global telecommunications firm -- and she had assembled a resume that didn't exactly lay out a clear objective for what she really wanted to do.

But after being laid off in February 2012 from her last position at Harsco Metals & Minerals in Sarver, Butler County, where she developed marketing plans to sell recycled industrial waste, Ms. McTavish opted to take her myriad skills and launch her own business.

Becoming an entrepreneur was always in the back of her mind and her military experience was key to taking the risk, she said. "The ability to take ownership and be responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen, that's part of my character and it's reinforced all the time in the military."

The 41-year-old now runs Ross Distributions, an industrial byproducts supply business. The company is based out of her home in Acme, Westmoreland County, and has two employees.

She will be among the speakers Saturday at a symposium for veterans presented by Seton Hill University's E-Magnify women's business center and Business & Professional Women of Pennsylvania. The event, "Women Veterans Marching Forward: Call to Entrepreneurship," will be held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Cecilian Hall on Seton Hill's main campus, Greensburg.

After reading research conducted by the Business and Professional Women's Foundation in conjunction with a 2010 summit for female veterans, Jayne Huston, director of E-Magnify, concluded those women "may be the best entrepreneurs we can ever assist in starting companies."

E-Magnify, which is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration, provides assistance with market research, business plans, funding, mentorship and other issues for entrepreneurs.

The foundation's research showed women in the military had traits that meshed well with entrepreneurship, Ms. Huston said, including being goal-oriented, proactive, able to adapt quickly and experienced in making quick decisions in the face of uncertainty.

She decided E-Magnify could play a role in assisting female veterans who were aspiring business owners, so the organization began collaborating with Business & Professional Women on programs and resources. The organizations held their first symposium for women veterans a year ago at Southpointe, Washington County, and again this year timed the event to fall close to Veterans Day, which is Nov. 11.

Besides Ms. McTavish, speakers scheduled for Saturday's symposium include other veterans-turned-entrepreneurs; a wardrobe consultant from Macy's who will present fashions for returning to work; and JulieHera DeStefano, a Gibsonia-based filmmaker whose documentary, "Journey to Normal: Women of War Come Home," focuses on eight female veterans making the transition from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to life back in the U.S.

"I think entrepreneurship is a really amazing match for veterans today," said Ms. DeStefano, who is editing her documentary for release at film festivals next year.

"You've got people who at very young ages were responsible for other people's lives and missions. They have to think on their feet and problem-solve quickly facing extraordinary odds. That kind of thinking lends itself to entrepreneurial ventures."

Many veterans come out of the military with specific business skills, including budgeting, handling personnel issues and managing the supply chain, said Ms. DeStefano. "The military is a gigantic corporate entity at the end of the day."

Many female veterans have trouble sorting out employment and other needs when they return, said Angela Reynolds, director of programs for financially struggling adults and families for the United Way of Allegheny County.

"It's the timing of when information is shared," said Ms. Reynolds, who is also scheduled to speak at the Seton Hill symposium.

"Someone returning from deployment receives a core dump of information about benefits and other help. It happens so close to the time they are returning home and making the transition that it might be too soon."

United Way is trying to develop a clearing house of agencies and resources so veterans who seek assistance months or even years after they exit the military will be able to find it, she said.

"Sometimes they find out, 'I'm home. I'm transitioning. And now I realize I need help. I didn't see those challenges before.' "

Cost to attend the event at Seton Hill is $20 and includes lunch. To register, go to

Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.

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