#StartupsEverywhere: Washington, D.C.

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Sonya Dunn, Founder and CEO, JEMH Enterprises/MilitaryHomeLife

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.

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Serving Opportunity for Military Families

Engine has partnered with General Assembly to celebrate Vets in Tech this Thursday, November 1 in Washington, D.C. (Learn more here). Sonya Dunn, founder and CEO of JEMH Enterprises, and military spouse for over 20 years, will be on the panel, to discuss ways in which active military/military families/veterans can utilize tech and entrepreneurship for opportunity. Entrepreneurship offers opportunity for military families no matter where they are; in fact SEED SPOT recently partnered to host a bootcamp supporting military spouses. Sonya is excited by recent legislation, such as the Military Spouse Employment Act of 2018, to better support military families and is hopeful lawmakers will continue to partner with military spouses to create for more entrepreneurial opportunities.

Tell me about you. What’s your background?

My name is Sonya Dunn. I am in the business of storytelling. Another word for storyteller is media content creator. I have been a creator of various media platforms for over 25 years. I started JEMH Enterprises (JEMH) to manage the diverse and expanding IP portfolio in media, digital media and digital platforms through development and acquisition.

What is MilitaryHomeLife? Why did you start MIlitaryHomeLife?

MilitaryHomeLife is a subsidiary company of JEMH. MilitaryHomeLife consists of different media products for its target niche audience for informational and entertainment content that speaks to their lifestyle. This particular lifestyle is the military life experience.

Being a member of the military/veteran community as a military spouse for over 20 years, I saw a need for such a digital platform that share the complete story of military living and it diverse target segments.

As you started your company, what was the biggest challenge you faced? What was the biggest surprise?

These two questions go hand and hand. My biggest challenge is growing too fast and not having enough monetary resources to sustain the growth. Surprisingly, our target audience is moving beyond domestic to global. Hence, the growth and the need to create content on the digital platform for both audience.

Are there specific public policies or government initiatives that have enabled startup growth for active military, their spouses and/or veteran entrepreneurs ?

There are programs, public policy and legislation currently available to veterans. Slowly, policy and lawmakers are beginning to realize that military spouses sacrifice just as much as their service member spouse in the protection and support of our democracies and for other countries.

In August, the Military Spouse Employment Act of 2018 and the Jobs and Childcare for Military Families Act of 2018 were signed into law.  These two acts will help entrepreneurial military spouses with more small business opportunities, hiring and career opportunities, improve access to continuing education programs, help ensure military families can find affordable child care, more resources for family wellness programs on military bases, and address the toll of constant transfers and moves for dual income military households.

How can policymakers encourage more entrepreneurship for military spouses?

Roughly 12 percent to 24 percent of military spouses want to work but are unemployed, compared to 4.1 percent of American workers overall. This is one of the reasons military spouse entrepreneurship is on the rise.

Of those military spouses, 60 percent are college graduates in professional career fields. Portable careers and businesses are crucial for the overall success of the military family unit. When both partners feel they have mutual successful careers, the home structure benefits with reserved sacrifices for their choice of remaining in the military long term as a family.

How was your experience participating in 1MillionCups?

I recommend 1MillionCups for every entrepreneur. It helps you flesh out dilemmas everyday small business owners go through and learn from one another.

I received some much needed insight and resources. I try my best to go once a  month to give back what I gained and procured.

What is your goal for the next year? The next 5 years?

2019 JEMH will move into expanding the visibility of two of our brands.  In five years, we will move into multiple target niche market in specific industries with our digital platforms.

My number one piece of advice for entrepreneurs is….

Make emotional wellness your personal top priority. Emotional wellness is the ability to successfully handle life's stresses and adapt to change and difficult times. Starting your own company is one of the most, ongoing stressful event. How you handle the stress of running your own company will have positive benefits in every avenue of your personal and business life.

Engine works to ensure that policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of our lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email jen@engine.is. Give us your feedback here.