How a Much-Anticipated Veteran Startup Overcame Extraordinary Funding Problems

(Courtesy of Crayons Ready-To-Eat)

As any budding entrepreneur will tell you, sometimes it takes more than just a great idea to get a business off the ground. The No. 1 resource all entrepreneurs say they need is capital. Veteran startups are no different.

Veteran entrepreneurs have a lot of resources available to them that can help raise awareness and money, even in the hardest of times. Marine Corps veteran and entrepreneur Frank Manteau is a prime example of what can be done by using those resources and putting them to work.

Manteau's business has been generating a lot of excitement in the military community around San Diego (and beyond) since 2019: Crayons Ready-to-Eat. But despite the excitement surrounding his business and the effort put into creating an edible (and delicious) sweet that you can actually use to color, he faced some special obstacles.

"We weren't even in production," Manteau tells "Because of COVID, the county basically shut us down. They weren't issuing new health permits that would allow me to produce the crayons in my home."

Manteau is a Marine Corps veteran who left the military in 2002 and moved across the country to start a new life in San Diego. He cashed in his 401(k) to start a woodworking business, Kamikaze Wood Werks. Eventually, he got the idea to put the old joke about Marines eating crayons to work for him.

Crayons Ready-to-Eat founder Frank Manteau left the Marine Corps in 2002. (Courtesy of Crayons Ready-to-Eat)

 With the help of a friend who is also a chef, he developed a crayon that could write, was edible and was also a pretty good treat. In 2018, he pitched his idea to a Bunker Labs Veterans In Residence event. The reception Crayons Ready-to-Eat received there told him he was onto something.

He set up the business, the website and product line, and began generating some buzz around it. Then COVID-19 hit, along with all the restrictions, stoppages and economic fallout that came after the pandemic.

"We had only done nine or 10 events," Manteau says. "We sold over a thousand units, but we knew if we could get into farmers markets, major events and bases, we could scale up. But COVID hit us hard."

It was a setback, but Manteau and his partner were still able to scale up the business along their original, planned timeline. The initial plan was to get the cottage food permit to begin making the crayons in his home kitchen, and raising the money to scale up from there. With no permits, he sought external funding.

He first turned to Warrior Rising, a veteran-run and oriented nonprofit startup incubator that offers training, mentorship and funding opportunities to vets such as Manteau. After receiving a grant from a Warrior Rising pitch competition, he next turned to crowdfunding.

Instead of using more popular forums such as GoFundMe or Kickstarter, Manteau tapped into his target customer base through Fund the First, a crowdfunding site geared toward veteran and first responder-run startups.

It took 10 months to raise those funds, but once he had the money, he invested in a Food and Drug Administration-approved facility and packaging to make the crayons. He received FDA approval to ship them across state lines and is now taking pre-orders on the Crayons Ready-to-Eat website to pay off the final manufacturing costs.

"It's an amazing feeling," says Manteau. "To see people followed us and stayed with us and to have 20,000 followers on social media. We're finally able to put our product into people's hands, keep the joke going and put smiles on people's faces. It's priceless."

Crayons Ready-to-Eat offers colors for each branch of the service. Jarhead Red, Squid Blue, Dogface Green, Flyboy Yellow, Puddle Pirate Orange and his new color for the Space Force, Space Cadet White, come in a package of CREs.

But Manteau isn't going to stop at crayons. He has plans for making military, veteran and spouse-made coloring books available, along with filling the preorders and future orders. It's a lot of work to do, along with keeping Kamikaze Wood Werks going. After overcoming extraordinary COVID-19 restrictions, Manteau is ready for anything.

"Veterans look at mission accomplishment, at pressing forward," he says. "It's what our experience has trained us to do: adapt and overcome. No matter what comes in your way, there's always more than one way to get around it. We find another way, stay focused on the mission at hand and press forward."

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