Despite the uncertainty that comes with any major career move, thousands of Veterans make the shift from soldier to civilian every single year. Why? One reason is the civilian sector is brimming with entrepreneurial opportunities that are enticing to Veterans. In fact, Vets are 45 percent more likely to start their own business than their civilian peers, leading to a massive network of Vetpreneurs.
If you’re a Veteran looking for encouragement, here are 15 Veterans we admire and what they’re doing post-separation.
1. Evan Hafer, Black Rifle Coffee Company
An Army Green Beret turned coffee guru, Evan Hafer opened Black Rifle Coffee Company in December 2014 as a combination of his two passions: firearms and coffee. Between deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Hafer submerged himself in coffee research and roasting practice with the dream of one day opening his own coffee business. When he finally made the switch to civilian in 2015, all his efforts went to making his dream a reality. Five years later and Hafer’s once modest coffee shop now grosses $30 million a year. BRCC not only gives thousands of dollars annually to Veteran nonprofits, like Raider Project and Thin Blue Line, but also employs Vets at all levels of his business. Check out this video on how BRCC changed the life of fellow Veteran Mohammad Wali Tasleem.
2 & 3. Jake Wood and William McNulty, Team Rubicon
In response to the 2010 earthquake that shook Port-au-Prince, Haiti, former Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty formed a small group of volunteers to go and aid relief efforts. Empowered by their successful mission to help many in the underserved areas of Haiti, the Veteran vigilantes founded Team Rubicon, a disaster relief organization that has been growing ever since. Today, Team Rubicon utilizes the skills of Veterans and medical experts to aid disasters domestically and abroad, a mission that is proving to build stronger communities while also supporting transitioning Veterans. That’s a mission we can get behind!
4. Emily Núñez Cavness, Sword and Plough
With her sister, Besty Núñez, Emily Núñez Cavness opened Sword and Plough in 2014 with the ambition of bridging the civilian to military divide. A military brat and former Army captain herself, Emily knows the struggle many military Veterans face post-separation. She and her sister are helping to improve job opportunities for Veterans by incorporating them into every stage of Sword and Plough’s business: from the design and sewing to the sales and modeling of their upcycled line of repurposed bags and accessories. Their products — which are made from military surplus fabric, leather and hardware — have been featured in publications such as Redbook, Martha Stewart Weddings, and Women’s Health.
5. Adam Bird, Heroes Media Group
Founder of Heroes Media Group (HMG), 10-year Army National Guard Veteran Adam Bird is passionate about giving a voice to Vets and those who support them. Opening in 2015, this digital media media branding platform provides education, entertainment, and empowerment to everyday heroes; including active duty soldiers, Veterans, firefighters, first responders, law enforcement, educators, medical professionals, and clergy. By getting the word out about what these community heroes are doing, he’s hoping to bridge the gap between our country’s heroes and the citizens and communities they protect.
6. Mark L. Rockefeller, StreetShares
StreetShares co-founders Mark Rockefeller, an Air Force Veteran, and Mickey Konson have revolutionized how small business owners do business. In 2013, they launched StreetShares, a business funding option that offers a suite of specialty finance products to the small business and veteran markets. These products include business loans, lines of credit, and account receivables financing for the government contract community. Currently, StreetShares employs 10 Veterans, has more than 67,000 members, and has helped countless Vets get the funding they need for their business to succeed.
7. Derek Sisson, Merica Bourbon
Here’s a quick history lesson: In 1964, Congress recognized bourbon as “a distinctive product of the U.S.A.” That means that bourbon can only be made in the United States. With that in mind, it’s hard to think of anything more American than the Veteran-owned Merica Bourbon. Founded by Marine Veteran Derek Sisson, Merica Bourbon was born from a desire to create a patriotic brand that promoted American ideals and Veteran camaraderie. Teaming up with Grunt Style, another Veteran-owned brand, Sisson has gone on to turn Merica Bourbon into a booming business — even winning the silver medal in the 2017 Whiskies of the World Award.
8. Eli Crane, Bottle Breacher
Eli Crane, a former Navy SEAL, and his wife, Jen, founded one of the fastest-growing Veteran-owned businesses in all of Arizona. Part of their success came after a 2014 appearance on Shark Tank, when they secured investments from business masters Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary. What was so enticing about their Bottle Breacher company? The couple made bottle openers from decommissioned .50 caliber brass. Their unique, upcycled product has garnered a lot of attention since their TV airing, and today Bottle Breacher includes an ever-expanding product line of everyday products made from repurposed military gear. With such success, the Cranes like to give back. To date, they have donated to nearly 300 Veteran causes, including The Navy Seal Foundation and the Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit.
9. Daniel Alarik, Grunt Style
Pride in self, in military, and in country. This is what Founder and CEO Daniel Alarik is striving to instill in his Grunt Style patrons, and it’s working. A former Army Drill Sergeant, Alarik opened for business in 2009 and has turned his initial $1,200 investment into a $100 million business. The company, dubbed the lifestyle brand of the warrior class, employs only those with as much fervor for the country as Alarik, including many fellow Veterans. On the side, Grunt Style holds massive fundraising events and gives to charities like The Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation, Fisher House Foundation, and Toys for Tots, among others.
10. Robert Dyer, RuckPack Combat Nutrition
Another Shark Tank winner, RuckPack Combat Nutrition got its big break in 2012 when founder Robert Dyer made it on the big screen. Like previously mentioned Bottle Breacher, Dyer scored two investments and has since become one of the most aired companies in Shark Tank history, according to the RuckPack website. The idea for RuckPack, a combat nutrition company that makes supplements designed for soldiers, came around a campfire in the battlefields of Afghanistan by Dyer and his Marine Special Operations Forces buddies. With their blessing, Dyer went on to turn the idea into a real-life business, which has now become a household name in the energy drink industry.
11. Jason McCarthy, GORUCK
Founded by former Green Beret Jason McCarthy, GORUCK is an American brand exuding excellence, toughness and adaptability. Their goal is to make the toughest, most durable fitness apparel and footwear around. In addition, GORUCK puts on 1,000-plus fitness events each year that encourage team building and living active lifestyles. The very last line of McCarthy’s bio says a lot about what this company is trying to emulate: “If there’s a nobler way to live a life than in service to others, I’ve not yet seen it.”
12. Michael Ogden, Pinnacle Leadership
A retired Army pilot from small-town Indiana, Michael Ogden founded a unique military-style training experience that has caught the attention of athletics teams, big corporations, and more. Pinnacle Leadership, started in 2013, takes sports teams or other large groups and turns them into cohesive teams prepared to succeed in complex environments and ambiguous situations. To date, Ogden offers half-day, full-day, and overnight retreats for various organizations including Indiana University Athletics, Indiana University Kelley School of Business, US Women’s National Wrestling Team, and Arizona State University Athletics.
13. Tim Kennedy, Sheepdog Response
A household name in the fighter and Special Forces world, Tim Kennedy is leading the pack in accolades. A Green Beret, sniper and former Top 5 UFC Middleweight, Kennedy also co-starred in the History Channel’s “Hunting Hitler” and the Discovery Channel’s “Hard to Kill.” Add to that list founder of Sheepdog Response, a self-defense company offering full-scale, high-level defense training courses. If the world is full of violence, Kennedy wants his clients to be prepared to handle themselves. The more Sheepdogs we can train to be truly ready to respond to violence, he says, the more good guys will survive.
14 & 15. Roy B. Sartin and Eli Williamson, Leave No Veteran Behind
Leave No Veteran Behind (LNVB) is a nonprofit focused on helping Veterans successfully transition to the civilian world by providing Veteran employment training, transitional jobs, and a Veteran educational debt relief scholarship. Seeing what a solid education and secure job could do to combat the many challenges Veterans face during transition, Army vets Roy B. Sartin and Eli Williamson founded LNVB in 2008. They have gone on to help countless Veterans successfully transition by helping pay thousands of dollars in student loan debt. What’s more impressive is the mark this organization is making on a community level. As most of their executive team is from Chicago, LNVB teamed up with Chicago Public Schools to provide safe passage to and from school for the city’s most vulnerable youth. Read more about this incredible partnership here.
Seeing Veterans succeed post-military is what keeps us doing what we do at SAVI. If you would like to know more about how we can help your transition into the civilian sector, reach out today.