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Five Innovative Veteran-Owned Businesses

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In honor of Veterans Day, NerdWallet is highlighting five innovative veteran-owned businesses across diverse fields. From publishing books to getting kids to college to helping plan the perfect marriage proposal, these veterans are helping Americans in creative ways.

After serving our country, these entrepreneurial veterans used the skills and expertise they developed in the military to open their own businesses. Read on to learn about their unique businesses!

Helping kids get to college: Applet Studios

Chad Grills, and Army Infantry veteran with 6 years of service, owns an educational startup, Applet Studios.  His company seeks to help students manage their budgets and calculate tuition payback amounts according to projected salaries, thereby minimizing their debt.  Their apps help empower students so they can make informed decisions.

“At Applet Studios we create educational apps. Our first app, Major$, launches on Nov. 15th. Our app uses future career projections from the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics to highlight trending majors, shows students tuition payback information and links students to free online courses.

We also publish the Educationist for the iPad, iPhone, and Kindle. It’s a newsstand app that connects the best teachers all around the country with each other, tech resources, and tutorials.  The $1 trillion dollar student debt bubble is a huge problem. At Applet Studios we’re excited to being part of the solution.”

Bringing people together: The Heart Bandits

After working as a computer technician in the Air Force, Michelle Velazquez opened a marriage proposal planning service, The Heart Bandits.  She specializes in creating one-of-a-kind proposals for clients around the world.  Named one of “America’s Most Romantic Companies” by Business News Weekly, her proposals have been featured in the New York Times, NBC, ABC, Brides Magazine, and more.

“In April 2010, my then boyfriend proposed to me on a sunset cruise. It sounds nice, but to me it was a bit cliche. Later, I confided in my boyfriend that I didn’t love the way he proposed and he explained that there aren’t really any resources for men to help them plan a proposal. That is when the light bulb went off and I started The Heart Bandits.

Some clients come to us with no idea on how they want to propose. For those clients, we send them a very detailed questionnaire to help us get to know details about him, his girlfriend, and his relationship.  With the information we learn from that questionnaire, we create unique and romantic marriage proposal concepts based on his budget.  He chooses the proposal he loves and either hires us to plan it or plans it himself. Other clients know exactly how they want to propose, but due to time or distance, they need help planning the proposal.  In that case, we just provide event coordination to turn their vision into a reality.”

Saving the environment: ASI Energy and ASI Renovations

Herbert Dwyer and Anthony Guarneri met in the Marine Corps in 1996.  After they left the military, they opened ASI Energy and ASI Renovations, companies that provide green energy.  By providing energy solutions for companies, the founders hope to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a way that is also economical for businesses.

“ASI provides green energy solutions and project management for commercial buildings. We specialize in combined heat and power (CHP). This is an exciting technology that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 60-70% while at the same time giving a building owner less than a five year payback. CHP creates heating/cooling and electricity at the same time. Thus reducing the amount of electricity the building needs to purchase from the grid.

When we started our business back in 2005, we utilized SCORE and the SBA (Patriot Express) programs with great success. These programs provided us a lifeline when we needed it most. They still continue to offer assistance. Anthony and I are proud to have served our country and appreciate the many resources it provides to our veterans.”

Indie publishing: The Pantheon Collective

James W. Lewis served his country in the Navy for 20 yearsA former freelance writer, he opened an independent publishing company called  The Pantheon Collective, highlighting talented authors that may be overlooked by larger publishing companies.

“I’ve been a freelance writer for years, publishing short stories, articles, and personal essays in various magazines, anthologies, and websites. I’ve always wanted to publish a book, too, so I wrote a manuscript and embarked on a journey to overcome the 98% rejection rate for acquiring a literary agent. Luckily, it took less than a year of beating those odds, but convincing publishers to invest in the manuscript was a different matter. Over 20 major publishers rejected my story. To my dismay, I ultimately dissolved the relationship with my agent. Around the same time, two of my closest friends and aspiring novelists were having problems just signing with an agent (they were going through similar rejections with agents as I was with publishers), so we decided since technology had greatly improved in publishing—in favor of “indie” authors and publishers—we felt we could do business just as good as the “big boys,” so we started an LLC called The Pantheon Collective. 

We sell novels, but by 2013, we hope to expand into author services, such as editing, typesetting, and devising marketing plans. Also, we plan to publish at least one author a year.”

Veterans helping veterans: Troop Swap

Blake Hall, a former Infantry officer and Iraq war veteran, used his experience in the military to identify what veterans need—an online authentication engine so that veterans could prove their credentials online, allowing them to receive discounts and perks from reputable brands. Blake was able to use his military service as inspiration for Troop Swap.

“Three years ago, I founded a company that has developed an authentication engine, Troop ID, that allows brands to verify the military credentials of users on their website. Previously, this wasn’t possible because brands had no way to verify military credentials online, and, therefore, no way to protect themselves from fraud or abuse. We launch the technology this Veterans Day with Under Armour, Overstock, Veterans Affairs and several more well-known brands. The White House reached out two weeks ago; we’re very excited.

The basic idea is that Veterans should be able to claim skill-training benefits, particularly e-learning benefits, without bringing their separation paperwork into a Department of Labor office (the current process). That’s not fair to Veterans who live in rural areas of the country and it’s horribly inefficient. For commercial entities, they need to have a secure channel that allows them to recognize service.

We are mission-driven because our technology can truly make a difference for the military. Saving military families money is a big part of what we do.”

Check out our tips from veterans who own businesses!

Veterans Day image from Shutterstock