When parents prepare to bring a child into the world, friends and family often shower them with gifts to support their new chapter. One veteran nonprofit, Warrior Rising, has joined a trend of putting a new spin on the event and throwing showers for an entirely different milestone: starting a business.
“Starting your own business is a lot like raising a child,” said Benjamin Bunn, marketing and business development director for Warrior Rising, a nonprofit that helps veterans in an entrepreneurial pursuit. “You’re starting from nothing, and you have no experience, and there’s no instruction manual. You’re left to your own devices, to find people – mentors – that will help you out in the world, and that can be tough.”
Warrior Rising formed in 2015 to “transform veterans into vetrepreneurs.” Green Beret Jason Van Camp founded the group, which has since helped more than 6,000 veterans in their journeys to become business owners. The mission to go from boots to business comes when the veteran startup rate has rapidly declined.
While 49% percent of veterans returning from service in World War II started businesses, only 5.6% of post 9-11 veterans have done the same. According to the National Survey of Military-Affiliated Entrepreneurs, a top barrier is a lack of initial capital. Warrior Rising created the exclusive Business Shower program to give tools, mentorship and even grants to veterans who might not otherwise have the means to make their dreams a reality.
The invite-only events shower participants with everything from haircuts and business suits to website building, branding kits and even grant money. They’re exclusive to the veterans who have shown the most promise in the Warrior Rising program.
“We had some real rising stars, people that had tremendous potential,” Bunn said. “People who were very reactive and always wanted to give back to accomplish any task that we gave them in terms of advice and guidance to help drive their business along.”
Warrior Rising selected Army veteran Justin Clapsaddle to be part of the first business shower group a few years ago. He admits before working intensively with Warrior Rising on his business, he lacked focus and often jumped from idea to idea, never genuinely settling on a solid plan. He works full-time in education, and his knife-making business started as a hobby.
In the first year, his company, War Metal Forge, only sold six knives. Ten years later, it has transformed into a “side hustle” that generates $80,000 in revenue annually.
Clapsaddle attributes the success to his mentor Van Camp, who inspired him to make knives from reclaimed metal from vehicles, shrapnel and rifle barrels that saw actual combat from the Battle of the Bulge to Afghanistan. The nonprofit also helped streamline his branding and provided grants that allowed him to start hiring employees to expand his business. He feels the most powerful tool he received from the nonprofit was its support.
“(I thought) if they’re willing to invest in me, I need to invest in myself,” Clapsaddle said. “It was so important to have somebody believe in what I was doing.”
Warrior Rising’s business showers have adapted through the years, showering about 50 veterans. The nonprofit hosted its fifth installment in Texas this fall. It culminated in a pitch competition similar to ABC’s “Shark Tank,” where veterans presented their business plans to sponsors with the ability to earn grants anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000. Investors carefully inspect all aspects of the business, ensuring new business owners are in the proper position to manage the grants they receive.
“They are building everybody up, but they’re also giving them honest feedback, and that’s what a lot of veterans appreciate,” Clapsaddle said. “Yeah, everybody wants to hear that they’re doing a good job, but more importantly, if you’re trying to make this your livelihood and your business, then you have to hear some things that aren’t easy to hear.”
The 20-year war in Afghanistan was the longest in American history. As it ended more than a year ago, Bunn, an Army veteran and entrepreneur, feels it’s the perfect time for the men and women who served to start a new chapter working for themselves.
“We’re free to be successful in our new lives here in the private sector and civilian quadrant,” Bunn said. (Warrior Rising) is getting more sponsorship dollars than we ever had before from big sponsors that are going to help us fund veteran businesses.”
Warrior Rising provided $900,000 in resources and support to veteran-owned companies in 2021. The nonprofit has helped more than 100 veteran businesses get started, including 20 valued individually for more than $1 million. The company will launch a self-paced learning app for “vetrepreneurs” this fall.Read comments