By: Laurie Sayles

Today is Women Veterans Day, an observance dedicated to honoring the women who selflessly served our nation in the U.S. military. It is a time to celebrate the women who broke down barriers and helped shape our history to uphold the freedoms Americans hold dear.

As we reflect on the history of women in military service, we must also recognize the women veteran entrepreneurs and business leaders who have contributed so much to our nation’s economic growth and innovation.

Today, it’s estimated that nearly 2 million women veterans live in the United States, comprising approximately 10 percent of all U.S. veterans. By 2040, it’s projected that women will comprise an estimated 17 percent of veterans in the United States.

And the number of women-veteran business owners in the United States is growing. In 2015, women veteran-owned businesses made up around 15 percent of veteran-owned businesses – reflecting the establishment of nearly 400,000 new businesses within just five years.

Growth has also introduced a set of unique challenges. Over the years, women veteran-owned businesses have faced difficulties including disparities in access to capital. The COVID-19 pandemic also exacerbated existing financial challenges for many women veteran-owned businesses across the nation.

At the height of the public health crisis, a survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis found that more than more than 20 percent of veteran-owned businesses had made “significant cuts” to typical staffing levels. Nearly 40 percent of surveyed business owners reported their firm would only survive six months or less if economic conditions caused by COVID-19 continued.

But amid these economic hardships, technology emerged as a lifeline, helping vulnerable businesses survive in a socially distanced economy. Faced with a drastic decline in foot traffic, business owners across the nation quickly turned to technology to navigate an increasingly digitally focused world, utilizing digital tools, social media platforms and e-commerce to meet the evolving demands of consumers. Social media platforms and email marketing services served as vital tools, enabling small companies to advertise their products and services and expand their reach to new audiences online, breaking down geographic barriers.

While the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated our nation’s digital transformation, technology’s ever-growing presence in our daily lives will remain. Over the last 15 months, digital platforms have helped women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs survive the challenging conditions brought on by COVID-19, and these same tools will help businesses emerge even stronger in a post-pandemic world.

As we look to the future, technology will continue to drive our economy forward, providing businesses with the tools they need to thrive in a digital marketplace. The end of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, but our leaders must not forget the role technology has played in the survival of the U.S. economy, as well as the role it will play in supporting women veteran business owners in the years to come.

Laurie Sayles is Chair of the Women Veterans Business Coalition.