More than 2.5 million small businesses in the U.S. are owned by veterans, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. That's an impressive number, given the lack of veteran-friendly funding options in the marketplace.
In recent years, though, veteran startups have gained attention, and investors and philanthropists are realizing veterans are a great investment. Case in point: One of the largest veteran-only business grants in the country is provided by the Bob Evans Farms "Heroes to CEOs" business grant.
The culture at Bob Evans Farms has long been one that recognizes and appreciates military service. The founder, Bob Evans, served in the Army during World War II and never stopped giving back to the men and women who keep America safe. The company started the Our Farms Salutes program to pay honor to that commitment, and the "Heroes to CEOs" grant is an extension of that program.
"Our company has a passion for helping those who serve. Serving in the military and beginning a new business venture can feel worlds apart for many vets," said Mike Townsley, CEO and president of Bob Evans Farms. "We noticed there is a lack of funding and assistance specifically available to veteran entrepreneurs -- which is how Heroes to CEOs was born."
Last year, the grant recipients were Army veteran Carson Goodale, Air Force veteran Charlynda Scales and Army veteran Jerry Martin. Their individual business plans scored the highest based on the judging criteria, which included categories such as "Success," "Reason" and "Opportunity." All three will participate in this year's program as judges.
Goodale started FanFood App, a concessions ordering service, but realized there was a lack of support for veteran entrepreneurs early on. "When I decided to start FanFood, I knew that my experience in the military would only make me a better businessperson," Goodale said. "I learned that, with discipline and hard work, you can accomplish anything, but I also learned that everyone needs a little help getting started."
Scales, who founded Mutt's Sauce, said, "The time with Daymond [John] was invaluable, because I had not owned a business prior to starting Mutt's Sauce. There were so many things I did not know, and Daymond was able to help me see the bigger picture. This year, I will be one of the judges for 'Heroes to CEOs' so I am excited to share all that I learned with this year's crop of winners."
The 2018 program runs from May 22 through June 27, 2018, and will award three $25,000 business grants to veterans or active-duty members who either have their own business or an entrepreneurial business idea. The three grant recipients will also receive a half-day mentoring session with John, founder of FUBU and co-star of ABC's "Shark Tank" and a three-day trip for two to New York City.
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