United States military veterans are honored for their service to our country. There are ceremonies marking their accomplishments and sacrifices, parades celebrating their victories, and even a national holiday dedicated to honoring and remembering them.
Veterans are also doing amazing things in the business world once they leave the service, and those accomplishments should be showcased as well. According to the most recent data from the Small Business Administration, there are 2.1 million veteran-owned firms in America, and that number continues to grow.
Here are just a few of the inspiring veterans who translated their military experience into a successful entrepreneurial endeavor.
Andrew Weins, JDog Junk Removal
Weins served 12 years in the United States Army Reserves, with two deployments, and is still an army reservist. Earlier this year, Weins and his brother became franchisees of JDog Junk Removal, which sells franchises exclusively to military veterans. The franchise owners and employees wear military-style uniforms and operate vehicles and trailers that are easy to recognize thanks to the camouflage. Weins says he is already looking to expand into more territories and hire local veterans in his community to work for his franchise. [See Related Story: My Life-Long Work Ethic Fueled a Military-Inspired Franchise Business]
Beth Graeme, Grambo Creative
After serving in the Navy, Beth Graeme quickly realized that entrepreneurship was the best way to earn a living and be there to care for her children while her husband was in Afghanistan. She left a contracting job and launched Grambo Creative, a real estate photography company, as a solo venture in 2012. In an interview with Inc., Graeme said she recently hired two people part-time, and wants to continue to grow her business when her family is ready.
Pedro Cedeño, Real Property Management
Pedro Cedeño was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marines Corps before beginning his career in real estate investing. He was soon attracted to owning a Real Property Management franchise because it required many of the same skills he acquired in the military, including adhering to processes, working as a unit, and understanding customer and competition. The business also provides him an opportunity to give back to his community and fellow veterans through a partnership with Homes for Our Troops, which builds mortgage-free, specially-adapted homes for severely injured veterans.
Nancy Sunderland, Poe Wovens
As a mother of five, Marine Corps veteran Nancy Sunderland is very familiar with the baby product market. Her American-made business, Poe Wovens, creates woven baby wraps that are manufactured in North Carolina and packaged in Vermont. StreetShares reported that Sunderland's business donates 10 percent of its annual proceeds to nonprofit organizations supporting women, mothers, caregivers and veterans.
Lou Scola, CARSTAR
After working as an aviation electronics technician for the Navy, Lou Scola worked for a fire department and in his dad's auto body repair shop on his days off. He now owns a CARSTAR collision repair center in Brookfield, Illinois, and hires other veterans because of their discipline and organization. Aside from the collision repair business, Scola also works with veteran organizations to hold drives at his CARSTAR location for things like clothing, food and toiletries. These products get distributed to Fisher House, a network of comfort home where military and veterans' families can stay for free while a loved one is receiving treatment.
Phyllis Newhouse, Xtreme Solutions, Inc.
During her time as a military intelligence sergeant for the Army, Phyllis Newhouse learned a lot about leadership, resilience and cybersecurity—which later became the basis for her business, Xtreme Solutions, Inc. Her IT services and solutions company helps its clients become more innovative and efficient by applying the latest information technologies to their security vulnerabilities. Forbes reported that Newhouse has learned to be goal-driven, and has evolved from a direct leader to a strategic one, "the same way you would if you advanced up the ranks in the military."
Don McGrogan, Popular Patch
Don McGrogan retired from the Navy after 26 years of service and started collecting military patches as a hobby. He realized these patches had commemorative value and turned his hobby into a business. Popular Patch, now run by McGrogan's grandson, has goals to expand Don's business to beyond the United States using eBay. The business designs, sources, and sells commemorative and custom military patches through the global selling platform of eBay. The success of the business has allowed Popular Patch to provide the military patches to veterans across the country.
Carlina Williams, Juice Hero
Navy veteran Carlina Williams wanted to do something creative with her training, as well as become a role model to her twin boys. She started her mobile juice business, Juice Hero, which serves locally-sourced, cold-pressed, fresh juice and herbal shots. VetLikeMe reported that Williams connected with veteran advocate Eddie Ramirez, owner of Mama Art Café, while attending a two-day Boots to Business course offered by the SBA. The two started a partnership that allows Williams to test-market her juices through Ramirez's café. The Juice Hero website says Williams hopes to eventually franchise her business.
Matthew "Griff" Griffen, Combat Flip Flops
Matthew Griffen served in Afghanistan and Iraq as an Army Ranger for five years. While deployed, he witnessed poverty due to a lack of education and employment, but he saw entrepreneurs working to make a change in their community. When he saw this, he wanted to help them. In a combat boot shop in Kabul, he noticed a boot sole with a flip flop thong and got the idea for Combat Flip Flops. The company's goal is make cool products in dangerous places to help people free themselves from poverty. Every product sold puts an Afghan girl in school for a day. Combat Flip Flops was also recently selected to appear on Shark Tank.
Evan Hafer, Black Rifle Coffee Company
After serving 20 years in the infantry and as a Special Forces Communications Sergeant, Evan Hafer worked as a CIA contractor and was deployed to places like Afghanistan and Iraq. When Hafer realized he couldn't find a great cup of coffee on his deployments, he began roasting his own and taking it overseas. He decided to combine his two passions and opened Black Rifle Coffee Company in 2014, with the mission of providing a higher quality coffee to the veteran community. Last year, Black Rifle Coffee donated a percentage of their proceeds to veteran-related causes, law enforcement foundations and other organizations.
Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor.