Meet Vicki Garcia
Vicki Garcia launched her career in 1976 working as a counselor at Casa Familiar, a social services agency housed in a former Highway Patrol building under the Coronado Bay Bridge. At that time the County of San Diego was looking for advisory board members for a new pilot project…a hotline for domestic violence victims.
Intrigued by the topic, Vicki got herself appointed to that advisory board, and that’s how she fell into the social movement to impact domestic violence in San Diego. It would dominate her life for the next 15 years. In 1977 she was part of a 23-woman taskforce to start the first domestic violence shelter in San Diego, funded eventually by the County. That shelter is still in operation today at the YWCA downtown.
In 1978 she wrote a grant proposal to the Federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration to fund a pro bono lawyer panel to help victims with temporary restraining orders. She won a 3-year grant and became the director of the program. It was added to the services provided by the previously mentioned shelter. Her bother now officially dubbed her “Crusader Rabbit,” for her desire to fix the world and make life better for people.
Fun fact: The character of Fay Furillo, played by Barbara Bosson in Hill Street Blues from 1981–86, was based on the work Vicki was doing. They met accidentally at a crime victim’s conference and Bosson succeeded in adding victim advocacy to the popular show.
In 1986 started her own business, Marketing Impressions. She could write. She could sell (now called “cause marketing”) and she was an empathic listener. By that time, Vicki had graduated from law school with a Juris Doctorate. But it was the transition from the non-profit world to the business world she found most challenging.
Like all entrepreneurs, Vicki searched around for the kind of business she would love and would fit her skill set. She came across a class at UCSD Extension on Business Marketing, taught by the venerable Parker Pike. Taking that class changed her life. With her big fat education, a degree from FSU, and a law degree from Western State University, it was that one class that flipped the switch leading to a successful business as a Marketing Consultant for over 33 years.
Vicki finds supporting business owners as rewarding as helping domestic violence survivors. Entrepreneurs are survivors in many ways. They can often be just as anxious, concerned about their future, and enthused about a new way of life. Helping businesses to grow excites Vicki, and her genuine enthusiasm causes clients to trust her advice.
Around 2015, the news was filled with announcements that the military was discharging millions of active service members. Vicki realized there would not be enough jobs for all these veterans. Shei got in touch with her long-time business associate Barbara Eldridge, founder of Mind Masters, a think tank program for entrepreneurs. “What can we do for veterans?” she asked Barbara. At the time supporting veterans to become independent business owners was unheard of. All the Community leaders were locked on the GI Bill … get an education, secure a job, find good housing and you’re good to go. Vicki and Barbara thought some number of those veterans would want to be independent business owners.
Together they developed and started a pilot program at their own expense, calling it “Veteran Entrepreneurs Today.” Vicki discovered that many post-military programs were started by concerned individuals. Sure there was a need, they put out a call and rounded up a group of 15 veterans in various stages of business development. Putting them through 13 weeks of intense business brainstorming and growth action steps was a rewarding experience.
In the meantime, Vicki made the rounds to all the veteran organizations in San Diego, such as the San Diego Veterans Coalition. Everyone suggested she talk to Maurice Wilson, Founder and President of National Veterans Transition Services. It just so happened that Vicki knew Maurice from having the Urban League, where he worked, as a client. Long story short Maurice agreed to take Vicki and Barbara’s program on under the NVTSI non-profit umbrella, calling the program Operation Vetrepreneur. Vicki is the Project Director. Barbara is the Program Manager, responsible for enlisting local subject matter experts to speak weekly to vetreprenuers on Marketing, Money, and Management.
One of the first steps for Vicki and NVTSI was to organize a team to design, develop, and produce the first-ever Veteran Entrepreneur Summit 2017 at Liberty Station. Vicki wrote a grant proposal and won the sponsorship of the City of San Diego. Homeland Magazine became the media sponsor allowing the Summit to attract over 250 attendees and booth displays, workshop speakers, and panelists.
Homeland Magazine designed and printed a wonderful Summit program with tons of resources and articles specifically to benefit veteran entrepreneurs for the first time. You can still see that program at https://issuu.com/adminhlm/docs/veteran_summit_september_2017.
Since that first Summit Operation Vetrepreneur has graduated dozens of active military and veterans from the program. Operation Vetrepreneur staged a second Summit in 2018, and the City of San Diego has continued to provide generous and much appreciated support.
Today Operation Vetrepreneur produces digital Zoom classes, Meetups, and one-on-one mentoring. Veteran entrepreneurship, once an unheard-of idea, has caught on across the U.S., as the third leg of the veteran transition stool: Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship.