Anyone who has served in the military for more than a day can tell you about all the times they were given minimal to no guidance before going out to execute a mission. Whether it was supervising the extra duty privates on police call, or heading out on a no-notice mission with nothing more than a name and an eight-digit grid, many have had to go forward and just "make it happen."
This is also why almost all veterans have a little bit of entrepreneur in them — and the Small Business Administration has the stats to back that up: There are over 2.5 million veteran-owned small businesses in the U.S., and they employ more than 5 million people, generate annual revenue north of 1 trillion dollars, and pay an annual payroll of 195 billion dollars.
But some of these veteran entrepreneurs are making waves and innovating in a way that we can't help but respect. This Veterans Day, We Are The Mighty is highlighting the top five veteran small business owners that we think you should really be paying attention to — make sure you check them out!
Dale King, Doc Spartan
Dale King, left, pitching Doc Spartan on Shark Tank.
If you're a fan of Shark Tank, maybe you remember that veteran that came on the show in Season 8 sporting a beautiful beard and a pair of freedom panties. Apparently, Ol' Glory gracing his thighs did the trick, because Dale "Doc Spartan" King walked away with a deal with shark Robert Herjavec for his line of ointments made from essential oils.
That deal changed the game for Dale, an Iraq combat veteran and former Army intelligence officer, and his business partner Renee. Within a week of the show airing, they processed over 4,000 orders! They still manufacture, label, and ship all of their products from small-town Portsmouth, Ohio, where they even have programs in place to give back to the community.
So, just to summarize here, we've got a GWOT combat vet who wears short shorts and sells quality products that he makes right here in America — what's not to love?
Marjorie Eastman, Bicycle Deck of Cards
Marjorie Eastman, left, showing off her Bicycle Deck of Cards.
Marjorie Eastman served as a U.S. Army intelligence officer for ten years, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan — but don't worry, she started off enlisted! These days, she's an award-winning author (her book is actually on the reading list for the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Center of Excellence) and veterans advocate who has recently taken on a new mission: playing cards.
She is the creator of the 2019 Bicycle Collector's Item: the Post 9/11 Deck of 52. This limited-edition collectible from the infamous playing card company shines a spotlight on 52 post 9/11 businesses and charities that have been launched by the military community. If this sounds like a familiar concept, you're not wrong: it's a spin-off of the 2003 "Most Wanted" cards issued to service members during the invasion of Iraq.
Eastman is "flipping the script" on that concept in order to "bring awareness and highlight the post 9/11 military community as a positive force in American culture and economy." We can't wait!
Bert Kuntz, Bison Union
Bert Kuntz, right, with Bison Union, showing off their merch.
You may recognize him from his time as a cadre member on History Channel's "The Selection", but before that, Bert Kuntz served a career as a green beret in the U.S. Army Special Forces, going around the world on behalf of his nation to "free the oppressed" … or in some cases, oppress some bad guys. But that was a different life.
These days, Kuntz runs the rancher-oriented Bison Union Company up in Sheridan, Wyoming, with his wife Candace and their four dogs. As he puts it, "[I] traded my cool-guy guns and Green Beret for Muck Boots and flannels."
Bison Union might just be one of the most authentic brands out there. Sure, they sell t-shirts and coffee, not unlike a myriad of other vet-owned companies these days, but there's something about the way they do it … the heart behind it, that caught our eye. They encourage their followers to enjoy breakfast, work hard, and generally, "Be the bison." Their shirts feature art that makes us nostalgic for simpler times, and their custom hand-made bison leather cowboy boots set them apart as a company that truly cares about a quality product.
Curtez Riggs, Military Influencer Conference
Panelists at the 2019 Military Influencer Conference, held in Orlando, Florida.
(Military Influencer Conference)
Curtez D. Riggs grew up in Flint, Michigan, where he had three options after high school: School, the streets, or the military. He chose the U.S. Army, where he recently retired as a career recruiter.
The nice thing about spending time as a recruiter? It allows you to hone your "people" skills, as well as learning and testing the leading marketing, social media, and business practices of our generation. Curtez leveraged those skills to found the Military Influencer Conference, a three-day event he started in 2016 that connects business executives and brands with influencers in the military community.
The conference is usually held in Washington, D.C., but will now be moving to a different region of the country each year. And with eight different tracks for attendees, there's something for everyone:
- "Going Live" – Podcasters and Video
- Real Estate
- Founders and Innovators
- Social Impact
- Content Creators
- Empower – Milspouse Track
- Mighty Talks
Keep an eye out for the 2020 conference, which will be held in San Antonio, Texas, from September 23-26.
Coby Cochran, UnCanna
Uncanna founder Coby Cochran, former Army Ranger.
Coby Cochran is a 10 year veteran of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and the founder of what we think might be the most well-known veteran-led CBD oil company in the game: Uncanna.
Cochran has only been in business since his departure from the military in 2018, but has grown the company steadily and organically to the point where it is now widely recognized as one of the most trusted brands for veteran wellness. And that was no accident: Cochran himself used CBD to get himself off of over 13 prescription medications while in the military, and now ensures the quality of his product.
According to the Uncanna website, "We have direct oversight of our vertically integrated operations, from seed to sale resulting in exceptional quality control and low prices. Every batch is third-party lab tested, with full panel labs, guaranteeing safety, purity, and potency."
We're excited about the business and mission Cochran has taken on, and are looking forward to what he may be able to do to further healthier ways for veterans to cope with their injuries.
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