Army veteran Carl Churchill and his wife Lori launched Lock-n-Load Java, a Utah-based coffee shop, on September 11, 2010 with little more than determination, grit, and a few lessons learned from 21 years in the military.
“When you are in the fight you need skilled allies,” said Churchill. He didn’t have to look far.
After partnering with a roaster who happened to be his brother in law, Churchill got the thumbs up from a small group of taste-testers and began selling bags of premium coffee online. Sales picked up and Churchill jumped into the social media space--with advice from an expert. “My 16-year old daughter taught me everything I needed to know about Facebook,” he said.
Two years and 15,000 Facebook fans later, Lock-n-Load has a projected revenue of well over $120,000 for 2012.
“Supporting veteran-owned businesses really resonates with people,” he added.
Churchill isn’t the only vet that finds entrepreneurship a natural transition from military life. Churchill said he also buoys former Army Rangers, SEALS and other veteran business owners through reciprocity, idea sharing, and cross-promotions. But over the last two decades, the number of vet-owned start-ups has drastically declined. This drop is despite recent research from the National Veteran Owned Business Association which showed 70% of American consumers say they prefer to buy from veteran-owned businesses.
Part of the reason for the decline is, simply, a lack of resources for these aspiring entrepreneurs. But there are several organizations hoping to give veterans the tools they need to start up.
Take the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, for example. IVMF, based in New York, operates extensive training programs for vets with disabilities and their caregivers, spouses, female service members, guard and reservists, and active-duty service members transitioning out of the military.
“Vets are inherently entrepreneurial,” said Jaime Alvarez, Director of Media Relations and Communications. “Our approach is successful because we are working with folks who already have leadership, integrity, and drive.”
Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, EBV, for example includes online coursework, a 10-day residency bootcamp, and post-mentorship support. Since 2007, IVMF has churned out some 600 graduates who’ve gone on to start marketing companies, non-profits, and even a gluten-free BBQ sauce called Young G’s.
American Corporate Partners is another resource. When Michael Calonita had a question about getting an advanced degree after he transitioned out of military, the young sailor got sage advice from an HR professional with nearly 30 years experience, an auto-industry exec and a construction expert via the non-profit. It didn’t matter that Calonita was deployed at the time. What mattered, said founder Sid Goodfriend, is the caliber of people who answered his question.
“You can’t find this level of expertise anywhere else,” said Goodfriend. ACP hosts an online business advice network called AdvisorNet and connects business leaders to veterans through a year-long mentoring program.
After applying to ACP, a protégé might present a business plan to a mentor, a Citibank or JP Morgan executive for instance who helps you refine the plan, pursue funding avenues, develop business strategies and more.
“Our best relationships are ones that tap into the mentor’s network, not just the mentor himself,” said Goodfriend.
But the biggest resource for vetrepreneurs is, you guessed it, the military.
“Use the skills you developed in the military,” added Churchill. “Discipline, hard work, teamwork and a strong work ethic.”