Last week 15 women entrepreneurs signed up to present their 60-second pitch in front of a room of fellow women veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs at the V-WISE Conference in Washington, DC.

VWISE – Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship is a part of the IVMF – Institute for Veteran and Military Families program provided through Syracuse University and the Small Business Association. It is an incredible national entrepreneur program for women veteran and military spouses who traveled from around the country to attend and participate at this conference. I was so honored to participate as a pitch coach and mentor for the VWISE Pitch Party Jam on Friday evening of the event.

The Pitch Party Jam was a huge success, with a ‘sold out’ room of over 40 women to observe and gain insights from the pitching candidates. After each pitch, I had two minutes to provide specific feedback on their delivery and business idea. We also ended up with extra time and had over 10 women volunteer on the spot to give their pitch, without practice, which takes a lot of courage.

The pitch party was jamming and the entrepreneurial spirit was contagious.

Although some of the women were nervous to begin, once they started to share their story, you could see them find their stride. The room was filled with their energy and the passion was palpable – one fighter after another, these women found their voices.

During the evening of the pitch contest, while watching and listening to these amazing and brave women, I had a blink moment. My thoughts flashed back to when I worked with my favorite voice student, a beautiful and brave young girl, named Kimberley.

Before ‘preneur’, I spent over 12 years as a Speech-Language Pathologist working with clients and students at various settings while stationed in different areas of the country. As a military spouse, our first duty station was in Jacksonville, Florida, where I served as the Hospital/Homebound SLP for the Clay County School District. I worked with students who had serious health issues preventing them from attending school, therefore, I would travel to their home or hospital to provide speech-therapy.

Kimberly was about 7 when I started working with her and she had the warmest brown eyes, brightest smile and gave the biggest hugs. Kimberley was placed in medical foster care after an explosion occurred in her house, which was utilized as a meth lab.

Kimberley had first degree burns on 95% of her body from her neck down, leaving her without any fingers or toes. She also ingested chemicals and fumes from the explosion, therefore burning her trachea, causing her vocal cords severe damage and scar tissue.

Kimberley was unable to speak and without fingers for sign language, she had no way to verbalize her thoughts.

Although Kimberley lost her voice, she did not lose her tenacity. She was a fighter.

I was fortunate to work with Kimberley for the three years we were stationed there. I watched her recover from painful skin graft surgeries to help replace her constantly growing skin, yet she never complained or cried.

Instead, Kimberley would smile and use the two small remnants of fingers she had on her right hand to draw beautiful pictures. She worked hard, week after week, learning how to find her voice again…one sound at a time.

One afternoon, when I arrived at the house, her foster mom, Ms. Nancy, a true angel on earth, told me that Kimberley had a surprise for me.

Somehow Kimberley found out it was my birthday and when I went back to the room, Kimberley handed me a picture of a birthday cake she colored for me. She gave me a big hug, smiled and for the first time ever…she started to sing Happy Birthday to me.

Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday Ms. Jen, Happy Birthday to you.

It was truly the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. She sang, smiled and laughed and then I asked her to sing it again – and she did, again and again.

Watching these ladies pitching their business and finding their voices, was truly an honor. They are fighters, just like Kimberley.

Kimberley taught me that when life knocks you down … you get back up … and keep fighting to find your voice.

And these brave VWISE entrepreneurs taught everyone in that pitch party room… when you speak from your soul … your voice WILL finds its’ way…

Congratulations ladies – now just keep singing!