CAPITOL POST HELPS VETERANS TURN THEIR IDEAS INTO BUSINESSES Capitol Post director Emily McMahan / Photo: Cameron Gray By Cameron Gray September 21, 2015

“This is such a positive organization,” says Emily McMahan, director of Capitol Post. “It’s a metaphor for life.”

When McMahan talks about her job, her positivity is infectious. Her passion is helping veterans. A veteran herself, McMahan is the kind of woman you would want to fight alongside. The Alexandria, Virginia-based Capitol Post does one thing: help veterans start their own business, from concept to business plan to fruition.

Capitol Post began two years ago as the Alexandria Veterans Business Enterprise Center. An estimated 8-10 percent of Alexandria’s residents are veterans—no surprise, given the city’s proximity to the Pentagon. Recognizing this, Alexandria partnered with the private sector to launch a business incubator for veterans. McMahan was hired as director and helped expand the program beyond Alexandria’s city limits to the entire Washington, D.C. metro area. The name change came with the expansion.

If you had to pick the perfect person to head an incubator for veteran-owned businesses, McMahan would be it. She holds an MBA from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business and a B.S. from West Point. Her experience is hard to question, and she not only knows the world of business, she is eager to share her knowledge.

Among the services Capitol Post provides veterans and their spouses include business counseling and transitional assistance, personalized professional guidance, mentorship programs, conference and training space, and events and workshops throughout the year.

Capitol Post’s building is open and bright. The place was designed to foster professionalism, creativity and collaboration. Every wall is a whiteboard, and normally filled from floor to ceiling with numbers, ideas, and inspiration.

capitol post 2Capitol Post’s office space in Alexandria, Virginia. | Photo: Cameron Gray
Throughout the workspace, there are prints by Sargent-Thamm, which provides “support to veterans and [their] families by working within the local artist community to provide free printmaking, papermaking, book arts and other means of artistic expression free of charge.”

capitol post 3Prints by Sargent-Thamm, above, line the walls of Capitol Post’s office. | Photo: Cameron Gray
McMahan’s eyes get as wide as saucers when she talks about Capitol Post’s work. She loves it when people are talking across cubicles, sharing ideas and assets—veterans helping one another become successful entrepreneurs.

But while McMahan and Capitol Post are positive and supportive of their clients, a sobering reality exists. McMahan estimates that only about 15 percent of ideas become actual businesses. When asked about some of the disappointments, her entire demeanor changes. You can tell that she takes failures personally, even if they aren’t her own. McMahan laments that some clients just can’t “get life out of their way.”

Recently, Capitol Post partnered with Bunker Labs, a Chicago-based incubator for veteran business that has locations in seven other cities across the United States. This has been a boon for Capitol Post in terms of resources and connections. Bunker Labs brings with it a nationwide network of mentors, partners, and investors, including major corporations such as Comcast and Deloitte.

Other businesses have taken notice, too. Veterans are often highly sought after; their military discipline and experience usually translates perfectly into the private sector. Capitol Post has partnered with local DC-area businesses like Long and Foster Realtors and SunTrust Bank. There is of course financial support, but there are also many opportunities for cross-pollination, be it sharing speakers, or direct access to people who can help turn a mere idea into a successful business.

When talking about the partnership with Bunker Labs, McMahan recalls a quote by its CEO Todd Connor: “Doing is the new résumé.” She adds that while book smarts are a good thing, being “back of the school bus smart” gives people an advantage over those without street smarts. Luckily, for clients of Capitol Post, she possesses both.

Emily McMahan and Capitol Post are fantastic examples of what is great about America. They show how communities can come together to do pay back those who risked life and limb, and gave their all for the United States.

Cameron Gray is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @Cameron_Gray.