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Warriors Share Entrepreneurial Spirit and Inspire Other Veterans During National Veterans Small Business Week

When it comes to leadership and dedication, veterans offer a special skill set. Around 2.5 million veterans have decided to use those skills to become their own bosses and take the brave leap to open their own small business.

Veteran-owned businesses are being celebrated Oct. 31-Nov. 4, during National Veterans Small Business Week (NVSBW), which aims to increase support for veteran-owned businesses and make veteran entrepreneurs aware of resources available to them.

The Small Business Administration began its National Veterans Small Business Week initiative nine years ago to connect and empower active-duty service members and veterans and military spouses, who own – or would like to own – a business.

“There’s a two-fold purpose,” said Larry Stubblefield, associate administrator for the Office of Veterans Business Development at the U.S. Small Business Administration. “First, we want to honor and celebrate our close to two million veteran-owned small businesses. In addition to honoring and celebrating them, we want to introduce them to SBA resources, and some of our partners who can help them in their entrepreneurial journey.”

Stubblefield said veteran-owned businesses produce close to $1 trillion in sales annually and employ close to 4 million people. 

“It’s important to highlight veteran business owners and the important role they play in the economy and in local communities in terms of building wealth and serving the community,” Stubblefield said. 

Several warriors who are active with Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) have made the leap to business ownership. Here’s how three of them turned their military knowledge and experience into successful entrepreneurial endeavors. You can also learn more about career counseling through WWP’s Warriors to Work Veteran Employment Program.


Finding Fulfillment

Warrior Sean Karpf thought the military would be his career. Then a roadside bomb in Afghanistan forced him to change his plans. Sean ended up having his leg amputated below the knee in 2012.

After Sean left the service, he was employed at a few places. He worked in his hometown as a strength and conditioning coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He worked 9-to-5 as a project manager in an office, and for a friend as an assistant project manager. But none of the jobs were bringing him fulfillment.

“I started thinking of other things I could do,” Sean said. “I have a friend who owns a pressure washing business, so I started talking to him and he had an extra trailer and some old equipment he let me use. I thought I’d do it once a while; that I can do it on the side and see if I enjoy it and make some extra side money.”

After earning enough money to pay for the trailer and all the equipment in the first couple of weekends, and doing work he enjoyed, Sean decided to make pressure washing a career, and opened his own business with a catchy name and logo. A Leg Up Pressure Washing provides Sean the flexibility to control his work schedule and the opportunity to do a service job that he feels proud of.

 “I had wanted to be in the military for 20 years. I re-enlisted a month before I was blown up. So, when that was taken away, it was hard trying to find something that fulfilled me.

“Doing a service job, you see the instant improvement. It's just a rewarding feeling.”

Sean said the biggest key to growing his business has been through word of mouth from his satisfied customers and the unending support of his family. “Having the family support was crucial,” Sean said. I couldn’t have made this leap without them.”

He also encourages other veterans looking to start their own business to lean on the resources available to them.

“The biggest thing that helped me was just talking to the guy who got me started,” Sean said. “Anytime I had any questions, I could just reach out to him. Wounded Warrior Project also helped me out a lot. There were lots of tools I learned through them. It’s good to know there are people wanting to help and give guidance."

Helping Veterans Find Jobs

Marine veteran Joe Padlo wanted to help other veterans find jobs and promote a veteran-focused workforce.

Joe was sitting around one evening mulling over ways he could help his fellow veterans. He worked in staffing and would often get calls from fellow veterans asking for help in their job search, but that wasn’t part of his job. He couldn’t understand why people who served and sacrificed for their country couldn’t find work.

For six months, he tried to come up with an idea. What products could he offer? What services could he provide? That’s when it dawned on him. Everyone in the military knows how to clean. There’s no way around it. That was the beginning of what would become Veterans Elite Services, a commercial and residential cleaning and maintenance company. 

Joe has continued to grow the business, and, since the beginning, made veterans the cornerstone of his business model. He accessed his connections at WWP and other veterans service organizations to assist with staffing. He says it’s important to him that the veterans and military spouses who work for his company are paid a living wage, and he encourages upward mobility, even if it’s not with his company.

“The reason why the company started is to give veterans opportunities, give these guys a path to success,” Joe said.

Beverage with a Purpose

The hot, dry climate of the Middle East motivated Army veteran Sherman Williams to try and find a better way to hydrate.

Sherman relied on his perseverance and diligence, as well as his passion for his product, to get his business going. His Body Aqua business found its roots during his time in active service, as his 15-month deployment to Iraq gave him the motivation to improve hydration. He knew the importance of staying hydrated in those conditions and believed there was a better way to do it. Sherman got to work doing research, learning about key vitamins and nutrients, and finding a company to develop his formula for what he calls a “beverage with a purpose.” 

Sherman’s product is now available in multiple stores, including Wal-Mart locations throughout Florida and Winn Dixie stores in Florida and Georgia. Finding that success wasn’t an easy process, Sherman said his military background helped prepare him for the long road ahead.

“Being in transition, especially after serving, failure's not an option,” Sherman said. “I mean, there's no obstacle that we haven't faced and figured out a way to surpass it.” 

Sherman encourages other veterans interested in opening a business to have the “never give up” mindset they relied on in the military. 

“For those who have a dream, don't let anybody steal your joy or steal your dream,” he said. “You don’t want to say, when you get older, ‘I wish I had just tried.’ What’s the harm of trying?”

Resources for Veteran Entreprenuers

Throughout National Veterans Small Business Week – and beyond – the SBA hosts virtual workshops and events to assist veteran entrepreneurs. The SBA also boasts Veterans Business Outreach Centers around the country, serving as a “one-stop shop” for all the SBA's resources and programs.

Stubblefield said the SBA is focused on getting service members and veterans “lender-ready,” and preparing them for presenting a business plan to banks and finding financial institutions that can best serve their needs. 

“Entrepreneurship is not a solo mission,” Stubblefield said. “There are resources to help you every step of the way in your entrepreneurial journey.”

One of those resources is the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), a Syracuse University foundation focused on advancing the post-service lives of veterans and their families. IVMF, a community partner of WWP, provides innovative programs in career, vocations, and entrepreneurship education and training to veterans, active-duty service members and military families. 

Misty Fox, IVMF’s director of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said the best advice she can give military-connected entrepreneurs is to take advantage of the numerous resources available to them.

“Leverage every resource you can,” she said. “Too often I hear veterans say they’re ‘resource-scared’ because they don’t want to take it from someone else. It’s built for you.”

Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, pmoulden@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.570.7910

About Wounded Warrior Project

Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.

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