Navy Veteran Builds Successful Second Career as a Franchise Business Owner

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Ronald Finch veteran business owner

By Rhonda Sanderson

Ron Finch doesn’t need Veterans Day to remind him he’s in select company. A career Naval officer who served 22 years, Finch is a franchise owner with Enviro-Master Services, North America’s leading health and safety-focused commercial cleaning service that has doubled in size since 2012. A favorite among veterans, Enviro-Master offers a 25 percent discount to former military members. Conversely, veterans are a favorite among franchisors, and with good reason.

“I would tell any veteran to keep their nose to the grindstone, because it’s going to be a lot of work. However, the reward is great; the ability to make a difference in others’ lives, to make a difference in the community where you live and financial independence and autonomy for yourself.” Finch, a Mobile resident who purchased an existing Enviro-Master franchise in July 2018, serves commercial businesses throughout the Florida Panhandle and the Gulf Coast regions of Alabama and Mississippi.

Enviro-Master is focused on making a difference in the health of communities around the world with 78 franchise locations currently servicing thousands of retail and restaurant locations weekly. Enviro-Master provides a comprehensive disease prevention, odor control and sterilization program for commercial businesses. In 2018 Enviro-Master International Franchise was ranked for the fifth year in a row by Inc. 5000 as one of America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies, and in 2019 for the seventh year in a row by Entrepreneur Franchise 500.

Having spent more than two decades as a Naval Aviator, Finch said he was fortunate to hold many leadership positions in his former career. Among them, returning from his last deployment, Finch became the Maintenance Officer of a failing maintenance department at his squadron, responsible for 11 helicopters and approximately 200 personnel.

“I had to work to instill a culture of excellence and integrity, and that’s a philosophy I carried with me when I bought my existing franchise,” Finch said of Enviro-Master, which provides unique processes and products that disinfect and sterilize surfaces that serve as breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses, such as the flu, Hepatitis, Norovirus and MRSA. Enviro-Master’s commercial restroom hygiene service, which is applied with EPA-registered, non-toxic products, ensures 99.99 percent of germs are killed. “Our brand had low recognition in my territory,” said Finch, whose majority of customers are restaurants and convenience stores. “It is very exciting to be out on the sales road telling businesses what we do. I’m adding customers because most thought they only had one or two big-name, high-priced choices until we met.”

After retiring from the Navy, Finch considered several options, but they involved relocating, something Finch wanted to avoid for his family. A franchise coach introduced him to Enviro-Master, a company that is a recognized leader in the $61 billion commercial cleaning industry, which is expected to grow by an additional two percent in 2019 alone, according to experts.

Finch offers these three lessons he learned in the military that he translated to his new business:

  • Integrity is paramount. In the military, shortcutting a procedure can result in loss of life. In this business, doing things the right way every time keeps the customers happy and aids in retention.
  • These next two fall under leadership. Every military leader knows leading by example is vital to creating a high-performing culture. With my business, I have to hold myself to the highest standard if I am to demand excellence from my team and expect them to execute.
  • Also, under the broader leadership category is taking care of your people. Those who are working hard have to know their boss (leader) cares for them. If the boss is setting the example and caring for the employees, they feel valued and respected from the top and are much more willing to perform at a high level. Overall, these lessons result in accomplishing the mission of customer retention, business growth, and gaining more business from customer base (Retain, Grow, Gain).

Currently targeting growth in major markets throughout North America, Enviro-Master’s continued growth is fueled by five basic fundamentals: 1) Large, identifiable markets; 2) Lack of competition; 3) Recession resistance; 4) Recurring revenue model; and 5) Service that can’t be displaced by technology. “I considered a few different franchises at first, but Enviro-Master was my favorite choice based on their business model,” Finch said. “After my discovery weekend with Enviro-Master leadership and staff, I knew it was the right choice.”

Rhonda Sanderson is founder and president of Sanderson PR, a Chicago-based marketing and public relations firm specializing in franchising since 1986.

Photo Credit: John Amato

My Journey from the Army Reserves to Starting My Dream Company

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group of business people working together on an engineering project laid out on a table

By Crystal Xie

My name is Crystal Xie. I’m the president and founder of Crystallogy Engineering, a construction management and engineering design-build company. I enlisted in the Army Reserves when I was 17 years old, still a junior in high school.

Since then, I have done a tour of combat deployment in Iraq in the very beginning of OIF, completed three degrees while working full time, worked as an aerospace engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory during Mars Science Laboratory build, and lead an R&D team at a major blue-chip company to develop patented technology, before finding my true calling in the form of starting and running my own company five years ago.

I have had more than a few detours and bumps in the road in my journey thus far; however, it is not immediately apparent that I have had the great fortune of standing on the shoulders of giants, organizations and mentors, without whom I would never be who I am today. So, it is my great honor and privilege to be able to give back to the veteran community and share some of my triumphs and struggles to help you to get to where you want to be a little faster.

I will start with what I consider the most important question before starting a business, or any career for that matter. We often are good at talking about what we do, in terms of communicating with potential clients and others in our lives. The question we negate to ask ourselves is, “why do we do what we do and how does it relate to others, to our family, clients and community at large?” I encourage you to take a moment to think about what motivates and invigorates you in your everyday life. Is it the opportunity do something you can do really well with skill and mastery? Is it the social aspect of working with others closely and build a network? Is it the ability to be close and flexible in your schedule so you could maximize your time with your family? For me, I love solving problems, helping others, and building a close-knit community that thrives over the years. So, it’s almost no surprise I became an engineer, got into consulting to help clients solve a variety of problems, and feel immensely blessed to be able to grow the company so we could help train the next generation of project managers and engineers.

How about you? Do you enjoy the technical aspects of delivering products/projects (working in the company)? Or do you enjoy solving systemic problems, building relationships and teams (working on the company)?

If entrepreneurship is your true calling as well, I’d like to share a few things that worked effectively in launching and growing my business. One of the barriers of starting your own business without the banners of a large organization is credibility. I’m a certified project management professional and a licensed professional engineer, and certifications not only help in drumming up business but also in guaranteeing quality in project delivery, which reduces client costs and improves our margin over time. As a matter of fact, investing in training and certification of our people works so well, now all of our project managers at Crystallogy are professional engineers and project management professionals today.

Another challenge start-up business owners often face is the burnout from the lack of a community of peers. It’s tremendously helpful and personally satisfying to join professional organizations in my field and small business owner training groups. Crystallogy Engineering does a lot of work in the alternative energy construction space; consequently, I joined the technical committee of NFPA 2, the Hydrogen Technologies Code, and served as the alternate chair for the 2020 edition, which is adopted to the California Fire Code.

I also recommend the V2V program to learn from other veteran business owners and receive coaching from Nelson Leadership. I am especially impressed with the

Crystal Xie
Certified Disabled Veteran-Owned Business (DVBE) and Small Business (SB) Crystal Xie, President and Founder of Crystallogy Engineering, with over 14 years of experience in market intelligence, business strategy, mechanical system design and project management.
generosity of fellow veteran business owners in selflessly sharing valuable business information and opportunities with me. The longer I’m in business the more I realize there are a lot of commonalities in business across industries.

As veterans, a lot of us are finishing our education later on in life, often with the pressures of supporting a family while working full time. You already know you could use the GI Bill for your undergrad, but have you considered saving your GI Bill eligibility for graduate school instead? Have you thought of going to a state school instead of private schools? I have been very blessed to have received grants and scholarships for my B.S in Aerospace engineering. For my master’s in mechanical engineering, since I was working in the area of structural engineering, I was once again fortunate to be sponsored by JPL. It is not until when I started my MBA program while working for UTC did I start struggling to pay a hefty business school tuition. Fortunately, a fellow veteran in my UCLA Anderson program told me that reservists who have served active duty deployments are also entitled to the 911 GI Bill, even when you didn’t pay into the program with your monthly reservist pay.

For those of you who are considering a career in STEM, I have enjoyed many aspects of engineering that I would like to share a few insights for you to consider if engineering the path for you as well. Early on, I knew that I had an aptitude for science and math, but I really did not know what engineering work would entail and whether I would be able to find life-long enjoyment of practicing hands-on. I was fortunate to land an engineering internship at JPL shortly after I came back from Iraq before the end of my junior year at UCLA. I had the pleasure of being mentored by senior engineers and experienced technicians, and it is through working hands-on in labs and machine shops that I discover the joy of designing, manufacturing, and testing mechanical systems I can visualize and touch! And it is the same joy that ultimately led me to build this company to design and build even bigger structures and systems!

Tips on how to contract with the government

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Yolanda Clarke MBA, PMP, CEO/founder of Powder River Industries

By Yolanda Clarke

Doing business with the government is still business. Everything any other start-up has to do, you will have to do as well. You’ll have additional requirements to satisfy, regardless of whether you are a woman, minority, veteran or otherwise.

The benefit of being a veteran is some preference to compete for contracts with the Veterans Administration and a small percentage of work other agencies may set aside for veteran-only competition.

 

What Unique Requirements Do You Need Complete as A Veteran for That Advantage?
Complete the steps at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Small Business Utilization Vendor Information Page https://www.vip.vetbiz.va.gov/ Apply for verification as a veteran owned or service-disabled veteran-owned business. Call (866)584-2344 or (202)303-3260 or email VIP@VA.GOV if you have questions. There is no cost to be verified.

What is the value of doing this for you and your success as a veteran competing in government contracting?
You must complete this verification to compete for veteran set-aside contracts with the Veterans Administration. In other government agencies, some contracts are set aside to only be competed by service-disabled or veteran-owned businesses. If you have not been third party verified, your competition could protest a contract award to your company causing delays in operations and contract funding (read “your business cash flow”). Also, if all things are equal between your proposal and another company’s, being third-party verified makes the contracting officers’ jobs easier. Who would you choose?

Resources to Help You Get Started
One of the best places to get started in government contracting is your nearest Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). They will point you in the right direction on the basics for government contracting. Another great resource is your local Small Business Development Centers (SBDC). One of my other favorite resources is a volunteer organization called Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE). All of these organizations provide free or low-cost support to small businesses. The exact types of offices near you may vary from region to region, but these will get you started as you gain confidence and traction to ask more questions leading to more valuable resources.

You may find that the support you can receive at each office varies. That’s okay. You’re still learning something. If you find you know more than the counselor assigned to you—fantastic! You’re ahead of where you need to be. If you find yourself in friction with someone at the office, it’s a good opportunity to pause and ask yourself, “why?” Frequently, the friction comes from not hearing what you want to, but that’s entrepreneur life. In business, obstacles and competition always appear to take you off your path. Your job as a leader is to identify those and find ways to successfully navigate your business around them. This starts first in managing yourself and figuring out what you will do with all the knowledge you gain from these great resources.

Finally, I would encourage you to find a non-equity requiring startup incubator to join. Entrepreneur life is lonely. As a service member, you rarely did anything on your own and accomplished impossible things working on teams. Your entrepreneur journey can be the same! You can find incubators and accelerators on university campuses and by searching local business resources. Many will be regional, however, there are a few national programs emerging, such as Patriot Boot Camp powered by Techstars and Bunker Labs.

Being a veteran will only get you so far. The resources and motivation you will get from working with other motivated entrepreneurs will help you through the hard times. Remember, there’s always another card in the deck. Being a part of your community can help you find your next move.

About the Author
Yolanda Clarke (pictured above) is the founder/CEO of Powder River Industries. She has served both in active duty and reserves for 24 years, most recently in the U.S. Army Reserves. Powder River Industries provides cyber and data science services to various U.S. government agencies. Her firm has received the following awards: Certificate of Special Congressional recognition from James Panetta, Award of Excellence from Monterey County Business Council, Monterey County Board of Supervisors Certificate of Recognition, California Legislative Assembly Certificate of Recognition for 2017 Small Business of the Year Honoree by the Monterey County Business Council, State of California Senate Certificate of Recognition for being honored as a recipient of the Monterey County Business Council Small Business of the Year.

Retired US Navy Commander and Harvard MBA Begins New Career with Floor Coverings International

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Kris Piotrowski stands outside her work vehicle

Kris Piotrowski’s background couldn’t have positioned her any better for her “second career.” The fact that she’s following in the legacy of her father is only icing on the cake.

The 48-year-old Piotrowski, a retired U.S. Navy Commander who holds a Harvard MBA and also had a successful stint working in Corporate America, launched operations as a franchise owner with Floor Coverings International, visiting customers’ homes in a Mobile Flooring Showroom stocked with thousands of flooring samples from top manufacturers. Floor Coverings International Mesa, AZ serves clients throughout Mesa, Apache Junction, Gold Canyon, Queen Creek, Phoenix, Tempe, Glendale, Laveen, Litchfield Park, Tolleson, Avondale and Goodyear.

“I do think that my military experience, coupled with my leadership and business training from Corporate America, is a definite asset to my business,” said Piotrowski, a Scottsdale resident who spent four years after her military career as a Facilities and Logistics expert. “Additionally, I have more than 10 years of facilities/flooring experience and am organized and driven.”

Piotrowski was further inspired to pursue small-business ownership when she recalled her father’s trade when she was a youngster. “I have always wanted to own my own business,” she said. “I grew up with a father who was a cobbler and supported his family by making and repairing shoes. When I received my MBA, I realized I wanted to be an entrepreneur and it was an inspiring moment in my career.”

In Floor Coverings International, Piotrowski found a company that has tripled in size since 2005 by putting a laser focus on consumer buying habits and expressed desires, its impressive operating model, growth ability, marketing, advertising and merchandising. Floor Coverings International further separates itself from the competition through its customer experience, made up of several simple and integrated steps that exceed customers’ expectations.

“I was inspired to select Floor Coverings International over other franchisors based on its culture, franchisee support, initial investment, and of course, being able to set my own schedule,” Piotrowski said. “Floor Coverings International was head and shoulders above the rest.”

ABOUT FLOOR COVERINGS INTERNATIONAL

Floor Coverings International is the #1 Mobile Flooring Franchise in North America. Utilizing a unique in-home experience, the mobile showroom comes directly to the customer’s door with more than 3,000 flooring choices. Floor Coverings International has 150-plus locations throughout the U.S. and Canada with plenty of opportunity for continued expansion in 2020.

For franchise information, please visit flooring-franchise.com

And to find your closest location, please visit floorcoveringsinternational.com.

Retired US Navy Commander and Harvard MBA Begins New Career with Floor Coverings International

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Kris Piotrowski poses outside in front of her work vehicle

Kris Piotrowski’s background couldn’t have positioned her any better for her “second career.” The fact that she’s following in the legacy of her father is only icing on the cake.

The 48-year-old Piotrowski, a retired U.S. Navy Commander who holds a Harvard MBA and also had a successful stint working in Corporate America, launched operations as a franchise owner with Floor Coverings International, visiting customers’ homes in a Mobile Flooring Showroom stocked with thousands of flooring samples from top manufacturers. Floor Coverings International Mesa, AZ serves clients throughout Mesa, Apache Junction, Gold Canyon, Queen Creek, Phoenix, Tempe, Glendale, Laveen, Litchfield Park, Tolleson, Avondale and Goodyear.

“I do think that my military experience, coupled with my leadership and business training from Corporate America, is a definite asset to my business,” said Piotrowski, a Scottsdale resident who spent four years after her military career as a Facilities and Logistics expert. “Additionally, I have more than 10 years of facilities/flooring experience and am organized and driven.” Piotrowski was further inspired to pursue small-business ownership when she recalled her father’s trade when she was a youngster. “I have always wanted to own my own business,” she said. “I grew up with a father who was a cobbler and supported his family by making and repairing shoes. When I received my MBA, I realized I wanted to be an entrepreneur and it was an inspiring moment in my career.”

In Floor Coverings International, Piotrowski found a company that has tripled in size since 2005 by putting a laser focus on consumer buying habits and expressed desires, its impressive operating model, growth ability, marketing, advertising and merchandising. Floor Coverings International further separates itself from the competition through its customer experience, made up of several simple and integrated steps that exceed customers’ expectations. “I was inspired to select Floor Coverings International over other franchisors based on its culture, franchisee support, initial investment, and of course, being able to set my own schedule,” Piotrowski said. “Floor Coverings International was head and shoulders above the rest.”

ABOUT FLOOR COVERINGS INTERNATIONAL

Floor Coverings International is the #1 Mobile Flooring Franchise in North America. Utilizing a unique in-home experience, the mobile showroom comes directly to the customer’s door with more than 3,000 flooring choices. Floor Coverings International has 150-plus locations throughout the U.S. and Canada with plenty of opportunity for continued expansion in 2020. For franchise information, please visit www.flooring-franchise.com and to find your closest location, floorcoveringsinternational.com

Fire Destroys Working Wardrobes Headquarters in Irvine, CA

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Working Wardrobes floor displays professional career attire for men and women job seekers

Non-Profit Facility Providing Work Attire and Training to over 105,000 Job Seekers since 1990 Loses Building and Donation Inventory to Fire

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. (February 3, 2020): On Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020 at 5:50 a.m., a fire broke out at the Working Wardrobes headquarters located at 1851 Kettering Street, Irvine, California. It was several hours before firefighters could access the building. Everything has been destroyed by this fire and we are working closely with the Orange County Fire Authority and Irvine Police Department for more details.

“We are absolutely devastated by this catastrophic loss, the heart of our operations is gone and so is 30 years of history,” said Jerri Rosen, Founder and CEO, after the fire. “We are grateful and relieved to report that no one was hurt or in the building at the time of the fire. Now our job is to get back on our feet so we can serve our clients very quickly and we aim to do just that with the help of our remarkable community.”

STATEMENT OF FACTS
● Approximately 100 firefighters were at the scene
● OCFA Public Information Officer Capt. Tony Bommarito was onsite
● No injuries were reported
● Working Wardrobes has been in this 22,000-square-foot building since 2016
● Everything has been destroyed, including:
●Donation Center: Large warehouse filled with racks, bins, and boxes filled with thousands of donations. Including jackets, pants, shirts, blouses, ties, shoes, jewelry and additional accessories. Home goods, office supplies, etc.
●Wardrobing Center filled with quality clothing and accessories for men and women in a department like setting.
●Career Center: Computer labs where clients worked to research and apply for jobs online, training rooms and IT computer lab. Plus, the VetNet team and program for veterans, SCSEP program for seniors, all client services for women, men, young adults, and all wardrobing services.
●Corporate Office: Entire operations of Working Wardrobes

We are determined to work with our employees, volunteers and the Orange County community to rebuild and continue to fulfill our purpose of helping men, women, young adults and veterans overcome difficult challenges so they can achieve the dignity of work.

NEXT STEPS FOR US
Financial donations are what we need the most to rebuild and continue to provide services to veterans, seniors, and unemployed get back into the workforce. To make a financial donation, please visit: workingwardrobes.org/donate-money/

Our friends at Goodwill have stepped up to provide temporary space for our offices, wardrobe departments and donation center in their Fitness Center at 1601 E St Andrew Pl. Santa Ana, CA 92705.

Donations can be dropped off beginning Tuesday, February 4, from 10 am to 2 pm. We are so grateful for their support and partnership. Much will change for us over the next few months as we start our journey over, but we know the strength of our friends and supporters will buoy us. We need volunteers to help get our new temporary home set up.

PLEASE NOTE: Donated clothing must be in great condition, clean and ON HANGERS.  

Please contact KathiS@workingwardrobes.org or call (714) 210-2460. We will release a list of our needs for donations soon, please contact (714) 210-2460 for more details.

MORE ABOUT WORKING WARDROBES:
Working Wardrobes is Orange County’s foremost career development nonprofit, championing on behalf of at-risk men, women, young adults, and veterans to help them achieve the Power of a Paycheck ® . The organization was founded in 1990 by CEO/Founder Jerri Rosen. This is Working Wardrobes’ 30 th anniversary year. Over that time, with the help of our Orange County community, we’ve been able to help more than 105,000 people overcome barriers to employment and achieve the Power of a Paycheck ® .

The Punniest Female on Instagram

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military spouse dubbed punniest on Instagram is pictured with the Puns in the background

Military spouse Angelica Hanley is behind the pun-based stationery brand ACouplePuns.

Angelica Hanley is a self-professed entrePUNeur, so when she found herself making up puns to describe the things she saw throughout the day, she decided to turn her love of puns into a shareable art form.

Thus, ACouplePuns was born and is now a rapidly growing online and wholesale greeting card shop connecting people through punny sentiments.

A card for every occasion imaginable, ACouplePuns delivers sweet messages accompanied by disarmingly darling drawings on superb card stock that is scored, folded and packaged by hand.

Her designs are inspired by travel, pop culture, and current trending topics.

She’s a military spouse who used a lifestyle of frequent moves to create a business she could take with her wherever she and her husband end up.

Angelica hold up some of her punniest cards
Via Instagram @ACouplePuns

Seeking a means to connect with people after a cross country move a couple years ago, Angelica launched ACouplePuns on Etsy with ten greeting card designs.

After just two years she has over 100 cards, which have landed on store shelves all over the country.

She has created custom cards for many popular female-founded brands such as Kendra Scott and also coordinated giveaways on Instagram.

Angelica enjoys sharing laughter through her cards and is building a community of fellow pun lovers she refers to on Instagram as “Punny People.”

She encourages you to share the puns you see with her at ACouplePuns to help inspire her latest creations!

Source: ACouplePuns, Instagram @ACouplePuns

Five Military Veterans Win Free Dream Vacations Travel Agency Franchise

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2019 Operation Vetrepreneur Winners pose together with U.S. Flags in the background

As part of a weeklong Veteran’s Day celebration, the number one franchise for veterans Dream Vacations awarded five military heroes with free travel franchises as part of its award-winning 8th annual contest “Operation Vetrepreneur: Become Your Own General.”

Currently nearly 35 percent of franchise owners within Dream Vacations are military veterans and in the past eight years, the travel agency franchise has awarded 42 free franchises valued at more than $533,400 to deserving military veterans.

(Pictured left to right) Army Veteran Don Shirley, Army Veteran Michael Foster, Marine Corps Veteran David Alexander, Air Force Veteran Jimmy Weeks and Navy Veteran Tawnya Caldwell. Photo Credit:  TheLXA.com

“Military veterans have made so many sacrifices so we can be the land of the free, making the American Dream a possibility, and Operation Vetrepreneur is just one way we are able to give back to these heroes,” said Drew Daly, senior vice president and general manager of Dream Vacations. “Every year our winners raise the bar in their business plans and I am excited for Dream Vacations to join them on this journey to successful business ownership.”

The annual “Operation Vetrepreneur: Become Your Own General” contest was open to former members of any of the five branches of the U.S. military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard) who are retired, off active duty and/or honorably discharged prior to the contest start date this past May. Candidates participated in a rigorous three-part application process which included creating a business plan, video essay and phone interviews. More than 2,400 people have applied for franchise ownership through Operation Vetrepreneur since 2012. This year’s winners are Marine Corps Veteran David Alexander of West Orange, N.J.; Navy Veteran Tawnya Caldwell of Hermitage, Tenn.; Army Veteran Michael Foster of Port St. Lucie, Fla.; Army Veteran Don Shirley of Cedar Park, Texas; and Air Force Veteran Jimmy Weeks of Costa Mesa, Calif.

“I’m proud of my service in the United States Marine Corp Infantry. It taught me discipline, determination, how to work hard and strive for perfection — all traits that I’ll apply to running a travel franchise,” said Vetrepreneur winner Alexander. “I’ve always had a passion for traveling and meeting new people. I love experiencing new adventures and learning about different cultures. I have a natural curiosity that traveling always seems to satisfy.”

All military veterans and Gold Star families who purchase a Dream Vacations travel agency business receive an enlistment package valued at no less than $5,000 and ongoing support. They can select one of four perks currently being offered — $2,000 travel training credit; receive up to $7,000 back based on initial fee through the Earn Back promotion; waived administrative fees valued at $1,350; or a Microsoft® Surface Pro tablet valued at $1,000. In addition to having access to the Command Center, an internal portal with veteran-specific training and veteran-themed marketing assets, all veterans and Gold Star families receive a waived training fee for a business partner and the ability to hire active-duty military spouses and veterans as associates at a discount. Additional veteran incentives include the ability to move residences and stay in business, travel discounts for military customers and access to veteran networking groups.

As the only travel franchise to receive a 5 STAR ranking from VetFran, Dream Vacations proudly supports military veterans and is consistently recognized by leading industry publications as a veteran-friendly franchise. It was ranked the #1 franchise for veterans by Entrepreneur magazine in 2019, and other recent number one rankings include Military Times and Forbes. Additional recognitions include inclusion on G.I. Jobs annual “Hot Franchises for Veterans,” US Veterans magazine’s “Top Veteran-Friendly Companies”, USA Today’s “50 Top Franchises for Military Veterans” and recognition by MSC Cruises in its Seaside Salute Award. The Operation Vetrepreneur program won gold from the Travel Weekly Magellan Awards and the IFA Franchising Gives Back Awards.

Dream Vacations is committed to being “Rich in Diversity” and empowers all owners, franchisees and employees to reach their highest potential by leveraging their broad range of talent, experiences, personalities, viewpoints and ideas to generate business growth.

Military veterans who are passionate about travel with an entrepreneurial spirit who would like to be part of a travel agency network that cares more about its agents, travelers and military veterans, should visit www.DreamVacationsFranchise.com or call 888-249-8235 to learn about franchising with Dream Vacations.

About Dream Vacations

Travel agents with the top-ranked home-based travel agency franchise Dream Vacations have the resources to plan and create seamless vacation experiences for their customers while offering the best value. A member of the International Franchise Association, Dream Vacations is part of World Travel Holdings and has received partner of the year, a top-ranking status, by all the major cruise lines as well as national recognition for its support of military veterans. For more information about Dream Vacations, visit www.DreamVacationsFranchise.com. Like Dream Vacations on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DreamVacationsFranchise, follow on Twitter at @Dream_Franchise and watch its videos at http://www.youtube.com/DreamVacationsBusiness.

11 Free Programs To Help Veterans Succeed As Entrepreneurs

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two men shaking hands, one of them is in a suit, the other is in military uniform

Veteran-owned businesses are an important engine of economic growth. New research from Experian has found that veterans tend to own and operate business with a larger employee base, and veteran-owned businesses have better longevity and sustainability than non veteran-owned business. (Experian analyzed and compared the credit data of veteran-owned businesses and non-veteran-owned businesses from 2015 through July 2019.)

Nearly 25% of veterans express interest in starting a business. That’s the good news. The bad news is entrepreneurship among younger veterans is on the decline. A report by Bunker Labs suggests one way to foster veteran entrepreneurship is through an “ecosystem” approach: “Taking an ecosystem approach to facilitating entrepreneurship requires ensuring that there is relationship density, strong network effects, and connected resources for entrepreneurs.”

Fortunately, there are a growing number of free programs designed to help veteran entrepreneurs tap into ecosystems that can help them thrive. Here are 11 of these programs:

1. Boots to Business

Boots to Business (B2B) is an entrepreneurial education and training program offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) as part of the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP). The course provides an overview of entrepreneurship and applicable business ownership fundamentals. It begins with a two-day “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” course, and after completing that course, participants may further their study through the B2B Revenue Readiness online course, delivered through a partnership with Mississippi State University.

Who qualifies: Active duty service members (including National Guard and Reserve), veterans of all eras, and their spouses.

Learn more: Visit SBAvets.force.com. To register, contact the Transition Service Manager (TSM) on your military installation.

2. Reboot

This one or two day in-person course is offered off installation and provides participants with an overview of business fundamentals, while introducing techniques for evaluating the feasibility of business concepts. The course covers a range of entrepreneurial business concepts and provides resources for accessing startup capital, contracting opportunities, and more.

Who qualifies: Veterans of all eras, including National Guard and Reserve members, and spouses.

Learn more: Review the class schedule and register at SBAvets.force.com.

3. VETRN

VETRN trains veteran small business owners and family members, free of charge, on how to successfully grow their own small businesses. This executive MBA program is based on the award-winning “StreetWise MBA,” which is taught in over 70 cities across the United States. VETRN has an exclusive contract to teach this management training program to veteran cohorts. Veterans accepted into the program receive a mentor on Day One and have access to a substantial professional resource network.

Who qualifies: In order to be accepted into the VETRN program, veteran small business owners must have been in business for one or more years, have at least one employee, and have annual revenues of $75,000 or greater.

Learn more: Visit Vetrn.org 

4. VetFran

One out of seven franchise businesses is owned and operated by veterans of the U.S. military. VetFran is a strategic initiative of the International Franchise Association (IFA) and includes over 600 IFA member companies that offer financial incentives, education, and support to veterans interested in franchise ownership and/or a career path in franchising. Navy Federal Credit Union is one such partner, providing startup capital for veterans who are buying franchises, as well as additional capital for franchise expansion.

Who qualifies: Veterans and their family members can use the extensive toolkit on the VetFran website to explore franchising, learn about discounts, and find franchise opportunities.

Learn more: Visit VetFran.org.

5. Veteran Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs)

In partnership with the SBA, the Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) Program is designed to provide entrepreneurial development services, such as business training, counseling, and resource partner referrals. Services include pre-business plan workshops, concept assessments, business plan preparation, entrepreneurial training, mentorships, and more. There are 22 organizations participating in this cooperative agreement and serving as VBOCs.

Who qualifies: Transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard and Reserve members, and military spouses interested in starting or growing a small business.

Learn more: Visit the VBOC webpage on the SBA website.

Other Articles From AllBusiness.com:

6. Veteran Institute for Procurement

This program provides veteran-owned business executives with comprehensive instruction on how to accelerate their federal government contracting business skills. It offers three programs for veteran-owned small businesses:

  • VIP START—For businesses that want to do business with the federal government.
  • VIP GROW—For businesses that want to increase their federal government contracting opportunities.
  • VIP INTERNATIONAL—For businesses that want to enter and/or expand their contracting opportunities overseas.

The three-day, in-residence training is offered at no cost to participants (other than travel to the event).

Who qualifies: Service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses and veteran-owned small businesses.

Learn more: Veteran Institute for Procurement

7. Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV)

The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) offers small business management training programs for post-9/11 veterans and their family members. It includes three programs:

  • EBV—Designed for businesses in the early-growth stage; includes an online course, a 9-day residency program, and a year of mentorship and support.
  • EBV-F—Offers entrepreneurship training with a focus on family issues, caregiver issues, and work-life balance issues related to being a business owner.
  • EBV Accelerate—For veterans who run successful businesses; provides tools and coaching to help take a business to the next level.

There is no cost to participate in these programs; however, EBV Accelerate participants must cover travel costs to the residency program.

Who qualifies: EBV applicants must have separated from service after 2001 and have a service-connected disability. EBV-F is available to family members of qualified veterans, including members of the National Guard and Reserve. EBV Accelerate is available to qualified veteran-owned businesses at least three years old with five or more full-time employees. (See full conditions for each program on website.)

Learn more: Learn about all three programs at the EBV website.

8. Bunker Labs

Bunker Labs is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, a national network of veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs dedicated to helping the veteran community start and grow businesses. Programs include:

  • Launch Lab Online—An online gamified, interactive way to get an entrepreneurship education; can be accessed from anywhere in the world.
  • Veterans in Residence—Provides space, services, business mentorship, and community for veteran entrepreneurs and military family members who are entrepreneurs; currently available in 17 cities.
  • CEOcircle—A mastermind group of select CEOs who are military veterans or spouses, and whose companies are growing; group meets monthly.
  • Bunker Connect—A “part networking, part mentorship working session.” It brings together transitioning military, veterans and their spouses, and more than 65 resource partners. The program is slated to be available in 12 cities by mid-2020.
  • Muster Across America—An annual national tour to cities across the United States showcasing veteran entrepreneurs, empowering local entrepreneurial ecosystems, and building connections between veterans and the business community. Events include education, networking, and a pitch competition.

Who qualifies: Active duty military, veterans, and their families are welcome. CEOcircle is by invitation only, but applicants may submit an “interest submission” online.

Learn more: Visit BunkerLabs.org.

9. National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP)

National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) is a comprehensive entrepreneurship training and support program for veterans with a service-connected disability. It includes a self-study portion, eight-day residency program in Oklahoma, Tennessee, or Florida, followed by five months of support and mentorship. All travel, accommodation, meals, materials, and instructional costs are covered by the VEP.

Who qualifies: Any veteran with a service-connected disability.

Learn more: VEP at Oklahoma State University, VEP at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and VEP at University of Florida.

10. Patriot Boot Camp (PBC)

Since 2012, Patriot Boot Camp (PBC), a national 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, has been on a mission to create a community that advances and supports military members, veterans, and military spouses in their mission to become creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs leading the new economy. PBC’s core program is an intensive three-day technology entrepreneurship boot camp that culminates in a pitch practice and competition. Fun fact: Four alumni have appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

Who qualifies: Military members, veterans, and military spouses.

Learn more: PatriotBootCamp.org

11. Vets First Verification Program

The Vets First Verification Program provides verified firms owned and controlled by veterans and service-disabled veterans the opportunity to compete for VA set-asides. VA also trains and certifies Verification Assistance Counselors to provide application assistance to SDVOSBs/VOSBs that want to become verified. Free counseling services are available to veterans free of charge at Procurement Technical Assistance Centers throughout the country. Free webinars and extensive educational resources are also available online.

Who qualifies: Veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

Learn more: Visit the Vets First Verification Program website.

RELATED: New Job Website Helps Veterans Transition to Civilian Life

This article was originally published on AllBusiness. See all articles by Gerri Detweiler.

Continue on to Forbes to read the complete article.

5 Reasons to Choose Businesses That Support Veterans

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package of bottled water sealed and ready for shipping

Most people want to give back to veterans, yet they don’t always know how to go about doing that. One way to help is to support those businesses that have a mission of helping veterans.

Will Post, an entrepreneur and U.S. Marine veteran, is on a mission to help raise money for veterans and bring about awareness regarding veteran suicide rates. His new mission is to raise funds to start Our Soldiers Spring & Bottled Water Corp., which will bottle and sell high mountain spring water. Once the company is established it will have donation buttons on the website, making it simple for people to donate to veteran-focused charities.

“People know that veterans need our help and support, but they don’t know how to help them,” explains Will Post, who is an entrepreneur, veteran, and is the founder of Our Soldiers Spring & Bottled Water Corp. “When we come together, putting our funds into a good cause that will address veteran issues, we can do a tremendous amount of good. That’s exactly what the mission is with the Our Soldiers Spring & Bottled Water Corp.”

Post is in the process of raising funds to go forward with opening a bottled water company that will raise money to support veteran initiatives, specifically organizations that provide assistance to veterans. The water will be pure and clean, coming from a pristine high mountain spring. While it provides consumers with a source of healthy, clean water, it will also make it easier for people to make direct donations to the individual charities, including the Semper Fi Fund and the Wounded Warrior Project. A portion of the proceeds from the water sales will also be donated to the two organizations.

The unique logo that was created for the water company was designed to honor fallen soldiers. It features a military weapon, helmet, boots, and dog tags. The image serves as an important reminder of the support that is being given to veterans and soldiers.

Here are 5 reasons to seek out and support veteran businesses:

  1. By supporting a business that backs the efforts of charities that help veterans, consumers will be helping veterans. Charity organizations cannot be successful with their mission if they don’t get the funds they need to carry out their programs.
  2. Supporting veteran owned businesses helps provide support to many others as well. Millions of veteran-owned businesses have employees, so sales will go to support them as well.
  3. Supporting veteran owned businesses inspires other veterans to put their skills to use opening a business. It gives them hope and helps to keep them happily engaged in life.
  4. Supporting veteran owned businesses and those that provide funds to organizations is an act of patriotism. It gives people a chance to show their appreciation for the service they provided to the country.
  5. It’s estimated by the U.S. Small Business Administration that veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans. This may be in part because they have a unique skill set to share and they have been taught leadership skills in the military that are a great foundation for entrepreneurship.

“We all need clean drinking water in our lives as a part of a healthy diet,” adds Post. “Why not choose to help veterans with every bottle that you drink? That’s what my mission is about, and with the help of those who donate it will become a success. Every donation is helpful and appreciated, and will get us one step closer to helping to provide veterans and consumers alike with what they need to thrive.”

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, there were over 6,000 veterans in the country who committed suicide during 2017. In fact, sincemedal hanging in picture with the words Our Soldiers spring and bottled water company 2008, there have been at least 6,000 veteran suicides every year. They also report that the suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times that for non-veteran adults. Suicide prevention is a priority, and veteran-focused charity organizations help to address this situation by giving veterans the resources and support that they need.

The Our Soldiers Spring & Bottled Water Corp. has a video regarding veteran suicide and the fundraising, which can be viewed here: bestofthebesttelevision.vids.

Those who would like to make a donation to help support the Our Soldiers Spring & Bottled Water Corp. can log go to the GoFundMe page for it: gofundme.com/water, or online to: oursoldiers.com/ or visit the Facebook page: facebook.com/Bottled-Water.

About Our Soldiers Spring & Bottled Water Corp

Founded by Will Post, an entrepreneur and Marine veteran, Our Soldiers Spring & Bottled Water Corp. bottles crystal clean water from a high mountain spring source. The website is currently under construction so stayed tuned over the next few weeks: oursoldiers.com/.

Sources:

Small Business Administration sba.gov/veterans-and-entrepreneurship

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs mentalhealth.va.gov/docs

Stedman Graham: Lead Yourself First, Others Second

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Stedman Graham poses with several servicemembers outside in front of a large military plane

By Brady Rhoades

Once upon a time, Stedman Graham—yes, that Stedman—was a soldier in the United States Army, trying to figure out who he was and where he was going. More than 40 years later, he’s a world-renowned businessman, author and speaker with a laser focus on identity leadership.

“Understanding who you are is the key to your growth,” he told U.S. Veterans Magazine.

Five years in the Army in the 1970s gave him a solid foundation. “I would not be here today without the military,” he said. “I needed structure.”

Graham learned to be on time. To listen when others were speaking. To do his best. To not quit. To be a follower. To be a leader. To get down to the nitty-gritty details of whatever task he was working on.

“It helps you lay out a process for continual improvement,” the 68-year-old founder and CEO of S. Graham & Associates and bestselling author of 11 books said of his experience in the military.

Graham has never forgotten those lessons, and he is forever grateful. Which is why he continues to visit military bases and stay in touch with servicemen and women.

It’s also why he lobbies employers to hire veterans.

“The message of learning while you’re experiencing is a great message for our troops,” he said. “It’s a great design for self-actualization…You couldn’t have a better opportunity than serving.”

And, he added, you won’t get a more grounded, humble, flexible and

Graham’s latest book helps people identify themselves before taking the lead
Graham’s latest book helps people identify themselves before taking the lead

can-do employee than a veteran.

Graham was born on March 6, 1951, in the Whitesboro section of Middle Township, New Jersey, the son of Mary Jacobs Graham and Stedman Graham Sr. He is one of six children.

He received a bachelor’s degree in social work from Hardin-Simmons University in 1974, and a master’s degree in education from Ball State University in 1979. Graham, who stands at 6-foot-7, played basketball at Hardin-Simmons.

He later moved to High Point, North Carolina to establish himself in public relations. At B & C Associates, he worked on behalf of African-American causes and had many distinguished clients, including author Maya Angelou and South African activist Winnie Mandela.

He is also founder of Chicago, Illinois’s Athletes Against Drugs (AAD), a non-profit organization that provides services to youth and has awarded more than $1.5 million in scholarships since its founding in 1985. Moreover, the organization arranges for sports figures to educate children about substance abuse.

In 1988 Graham created S. Graham & Associates, a Chicago-based corporate and educational marketing and consulting firm.

Graham has delivered speeches at many public and private schools on the topics of identity and self-awareness. He is perhaps most famous as an author of business and self-help-related books, including, Who Are You? and his newly-released, Identity Leadership: To Lead Others You Must First Lead Yourself.

Graham has been partners with Oprah Winfrey since 1988.

Identity leadership employs a simple but profound premise: You can’t lead anybody until you lead yourself. And to lead yourself, you must know yourself. The “self” is the biggest enigma in the world, the more provocative challenge, and the most rewarding mountain to climb, according to Graham.

Stedman speaking to servicemembers
“It takes years to do simple. People think there is such a thing as an overnight success. There isn’t. Success is hard work. The success I am having today took me 25 years. You have to put the time in to get the rewards out.” —Stedman Graham

Graham talks about being a learner, a hard worker, and knowing who you are, but if you go deeper, he invokes what he calls the most important word in the English language.

“Love is the key word,” he said. “Passion, talent and skills are related. Do what you love.”

In Identity Leadership: To Lead Others You Must First Lead Yourself, readers learn how to define themselves. The alternative, Graham said, is that society “puts you in a box.”

“When you can’t define yourself, the world defines you by your race, by your house, by your car, your money or your title,” he said. “It’s kind of socially constructed and designed to control your development.”

Graham said once he figured out who he was, he began to lead himself and, “to create a vision beyond my circumstance.”

If love is the most paramount word, purpose might be second, or in the top five. “Everything starts with a purpose,” said Graham, adding that purpose is essential to self-actualization.

In his world travels, he is intensely interested in motivating people to get rid of labels—whether they are linked to race, gender, class, you name it—and to take control of their own destiny.

He wants others to realize the process for success is the same for everybody in the 24 hours we have in our days.

Graham says being able to teach that, and to help people realize their potential, is a passion and a joy. He advises his readers and listeners to not be afraid.

“Failure, in fact, is a phenomenal teacher,” Graham says. “The concept goes back to ‘learning while you’re experiencing.’”

He said veterans know what it’s like to be part of something bigger than themselves, and they’ve learned how to adapt, particularly when faced with adversity. But they aren’t superheroes. They could use a helping hand—be it by a prospective employer, a nurse, a clerk, or a citizen on the street.

“There’s so much work to be done as far as helping our troops,” Graham said. “I’m just honored to be of service.”

Providing Business, DVBE. Employment & Educational Opportunities For Veterans