How 3 Veterans Successfully Broke into Entrepreneurship

Did you know that 25% of transitioning service members want to start a business? Veterans need more than the proper tools for starting a business when they first break into entrepreneurship. They need resources and community support necessary to grow these businesses and succeed in their second acts.

Is there a secret sauce to success as a veteran entrepreneur? We spoke to three veterans that served across a wide range of military services to see what their second act looks like and what it takes to succeed in business.

“Find an underserved area where you can add value.”

Veterans building their small businesses for the first time may be familiar with Bunker Labs. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit is a national network of veteran and milspouse entrepreneurs that help members of the military community start their own businesses.

What you may not know, however, is that a veteran named Paul Dillon was the creator of the concept on which Bunker Labs was based. Dillon is a former U.S. Army Reserve 1st Lieutenant who has been in business for 16 years. After retiring as a consultant from McGladrey LLP (rebranded as RSM), Dillon started his own firm in Chicago devoted to helping veterans that wanted to start their own businesses. He created the concept of an incubator called The Bunker where veterans interested in starting a business could find the necessary resources. The Bunker has since been rebranded as Bunker Labs.

However, Dillon did not originally set out to start a business that helped veterans. Initially, he was going to provide project management and business development services to companies in the service industry. When that didn’t work out, Dillon pivoted to find the right niche.

He found this niche when one of his clients, Crain’s Chicago Business, asked him to conduct research on Chicago-based companies that were hiring veterans. The research allowed Dillon to create a successful Veterans Day section called “Veterans in the Workplace” for their 2011 publication.

It also launched the start of his second career. Dillon was ready to assist aspiring veterans that wanted to start a business.

“What I learned from this challenge was that your first idea for your business might not be the right one,” Dillon says. “Be flexible! Find an area or industry that is underserved where you can add value. Go for it! If you meet with rejection, get up, brush yourself off, and try again.”

“Be financially prepared and understand the industry.”

14 years ago, Henry Angeli III broke into the real estate industry. The former United States Navy submarine veteran was inspired by an investor’s video ad about mentorship — and partially because he was bored in his full-time job.

“One day at work, it occurred to me how bored and miserable I was being a cubicle prisoner,” Angeli says. “I realized the potential of what I could do once I was able to quit my job.”

Angeli’s entry into real estate, and entrepreneurship, was well-prepared. He created an LLC for his company, Henry Buys Homes, and began investing in real estate on the side. Angeli purchased a course on real estate to learn all he could and started investing on the side to get familiar with the process. He also built up a nest egg of $50k, in addition to having amazing credit. Angeli rolled his retirement funds into a self-directed IRA to establish more funds for his business.

After four years of pursuing real estate, Angeli’s preparation allowed him to transition into entrepreneurship. He quit his job to work full-time in real estate two and a half years ago. Real estate provides for Angeli’s family and their needs. Plus, there’s never a dull moment.

“There’s never a dull day in real estate,” Angeli says. “You meet different people every day. There’s never an identical property to look at. Purchases for every situation and condition are different. I have always dreamed about having the freedom of being able to generate income to provide for my family. Real estate has made this a possibility.”

“My military leadership skills helped me become my own boss.”

Kasia McDaniel never dreamed she would become an entrepreneur. McDaniel spent nearly 10 years in the Air Force in the Information Technology (IT) field. She worked in corporate for another seven years before she started her home staging business called Blue Diamond Staging & Design.

As McDaniel considered what to do next, she was also redesigning her 1,000 square foot basement. The newly designed space was such a hit that a family member suggested McDaniel explore a career in interior design.

Once McDaniel started looking into design, she heard about home staging. McDaniel realized she already did this every two years when she moved with the military. She wondered if there was a way she could help other families. Blue Diamond Staging & Design was created in 2013 to help homeowners transform their home into wow and get it sold now.

As a solopreneur, McDaniel credits many resources to her success. She recommends all entrepreneurs connect with their local Small Business Center. (Pro tip: you can find local assistance with the help of the SBA!)

“It’s the first step new entrepreneurs should take to understand the necessary paperwork and attend free classes,” McDaniel says. “It was the best thing I did!”

In addition, McDaniel is thankful she was able to work alongside a home staging guru. The expert helped explain how to open a home staging business and allowed McDaniel to determine how she would price her services and find her first client.

One final area of gratitude? Her IT background — and time spent in the military.

“My background in IT helped me create my website and my military leadership skills helped me become my own boss,” McDaniel says.

Ready to start a business?

Are you a veteran who is ready to incorporate or form an LLC for your small business? Let the team at MyCorporation assist with your incorporation paperwork! Visit us at mycorporation.com or call us at 1-877-692-5772.

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