Learn more about NEXT’s entrepreneurs in our “Member Spotlight Series.” Members share their origin stories, challenges along their journey, and the insights they’ve gained along the way.
Robyn Grable saw a significant two-fold problem that she couldn’t ignore:
Nearly one-third of veterans are underemployed, and military spouses earn nearly 30% less than their civilian peers. As a veteran with a background in HR, Grable launched Veterans ASCEND to change those statistics. In this interview, she shares her story.
Can you share your elevator pitch with us?
Veterans ASCEND is an online employment program that breaks down employment barriers for veterans and military spouses. 95% of veterans get filtered out in the application process because applications focus on titles and experience, not skills that translate from the military to the workforce. Veterans ASCEND connects employers to veterans who can fill their needs. Employers create job profiles and Veterans ASCEND returns the top three candidates based on skills, location, and salary. It doesn’t require veterans to create resumes or fill out applications since these aren’t meaningful given that they don’t represent the candidates’ ability to thrive in the position. Instead, Veterans ASCEND creates a skills profile for each veteran, based on my HR experience and research, and my knowledge of the military as a veteran myself.
What’s your origin story? How did you come to create your company?
I’ve always been a fighter for the underdog. Being a female in the military was a platform for me to fight for equality, and I’ve stayed motivated to help those who don’t have the same opportunities as others. The problem I’m solving with Veterans ASCEND specifically comes from my own experience. When I got out of the Navy, I had to start over. I took a pay cut and fast forward several years, I started working for a Fortune 500 company doing HR work. While I was there, I was working toward a Master’s in organizational psychology and met an Army veteran’s wife who said her husband couldn’t find a job after getting out. I recognized this significant need and decided to change my focus to leadership coaching so I could help veterans transition. Why did this problem exist, and how I could connect employers with the veterans that could successfully fill their hiring needs?
I then got the idea for a service like the Eharmony for veterans and employers, matching veteran’s skills profiles to employers’ needs profiles. I knew it was important to translate the military jargon describing certain skills into business language that employers would recognize as a match with their needs. The idea took off from there.
What’s your vision for the future? What change are you trying to make?
My biggest vision is putting the right person in the right job quickly to help veterans, their spouses, even first responders and others who are in a similar situation. My mission is to help cut through the noise and get hiring back to the personal connections that were being made before we started relying on technology. But my vision is to use technology to generate those connections. I want to change the hiring process and the way we’re using technology in it — we’re missing a massive opportunity to connect employers with people who are fully capable of filling a position.
What has been your biggest challenge when starting a business and what insights are you gaining from it?
Funding has been a challenge. I would tell people starting out, “Don’t put the cart before the horse,” meaning that you need a plan for how you’ll fund your venture before you start building your product. When I started, I had a commitment from a bank, and I started down the path of building only to have the bank pull the plug. I’d already spent thousands of dollars on the program and the technology, and I had to scramble to get it completed. Another challenge has been making incorrect assumptions. You’re always going to make some incorrect assumptions as you’re starting a new venture, but I wish I had done some more research and planning and brought in some mentors early on to alert me to what I should be thinking about.
Who inspires you?
My grandchildren. They make me want to change the world to leave it a better place for them. They have so much joy, no prejudices or judgments. They believe the world is a good place and have enthusiasm for everything they do. That inspires me to go out and do what I can to make the world a better place for them. Also, other female veterans and business owners inspire me. It isn’t easy being a female in a male-dominated position, and I’m inspired by their dedication.
What would you say is the most valuable part of being a member of NEXT?
I’ve greatly appreciated the opportunity to be involved in the community at NEXT. It’s a smaller group of entrepreneurs who are trying to grow the Upstate. We’re working to provide more employment opportunities, which fits right in with what I’m trying to do with Veterans ASCEND. I’ve also had the opportunity to work on diversity initiatives in the community.
What advice would you offer to new startup founders or those who are in the early stages of starting a company?
Do your homework and find mentors. There are so many people out there who are willing to share. Utilize your network — don’t go it alone. You never know when you’re going to get that nugget that will help you take your company to the next level or make it through a challenge you’re facing. It’s a sign of courage to say you don’t have all the answers. And never give up. Always believe in what you’re doing. Make sure that this is your calling, and stay committed to your vision.