Today kicks off National Veterans Small Business Week (NVSBW), a celebration hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) from November 2-6.
Held in advance of Veterans Day on November 11, NVSBW is an opportunity to lift up service members, veterans, National Guard and Reserve members and military spouses, with a focus on small business and entrepreneurship opportunities for those groups.
2020 marks the seventh-annual NVSBW, and this year, the SBA is offering an array of daily events and resources to highlight topics related to veterans’ entrepreneurship.
Here at Zeal, we’re highlighting several veteran-owned South Dakota businesses as well as hosting a special guest speaker for next week’s 1 Million Cups event on Veterans Day.
Sioux Falls’ only veteran-owned food truck hopes to serve 200 meals to service members on Veterans Day
For Redders Food Truck, it all started with a sandwich and a dream of owning a business.
Jeremy and Jenn Holien were inspired to open a food truck after Jenn mentioned an amazing sandwich she’d eaten years ago. The husband and wife team began experimenting in the kitchen and eventually came up with their version of that sandwich—a delicious, deep-fried grilled cheese.
The Holiens had been talking about starting a business for years, and after Jeremy retired from Ellsworth Air Force base, they began to get serious about the idea. They moved to Sioux Falls in 2014, and Jenn returned to school to get her master’s degree. While she was in school, she worked as a Department of Defense contractor in family assistance.
“So, besides being married to a veteran, working with the troops is near and dear to her heart,” said Jeremy Holien.
When the time was right, the Holiens custom-ordered a food truck and made their business a reality. The food truck opened in June, and it serves several grilled cheese sandwiches, including the classic, a bacon and cheese, a mac n’ cheese, and a smoked pork version. They also offer homemade tomato soup or chili, seasoned fries, and a variety of drinks.
The food truck plans to operate year-round, and they announce their locations for the week on social media every Sunday.
Redders makes a point to support active military, veterans, police, and first responders by offering a free side of fries (or soup) and a drink with any sandwich purchase. On Veterans Day, the truck will be stationed outside of 1 Million Cups in the morning with their breakfast offerings—deep-fried breakfast sandwiches and hash brown tater tots.
Later in the day, they plan to park outside The Alliance where they hope to serve free meals to the first 200 veterans.
“Veterans Day is near and dear to our hearts,” Holien said. “Any veteran is invited to come to our trailer, but we’re really hoping to reach those that can’t afford to go out. It’s our small way to say thank you for all that they have done for us.”
1MC hosts founder of Objective Zero, an app connecting veterans to peer support
1 Million Cups is honored to host Army Maj. Chris Mercado, co-founder of Objective Zero, next week on Veterans Day.
Mercado spent his adolescence and college years in the Sioux Falls area, having moved here during middle school after his father retired from the military. He enlisted in the military after high school graduation, and he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Dakota through the Green to Gold program.
Mercado has served for over 20 years and completed four deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and the West Bank. He also holds a master of arts degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.
It was in 2014 that he had a phone conversation with Army Staff Sgt. Justin Miller that would ultimately lead to the development of Objective Zero. The two had met during Mercado’s first unit and would go out on patrols together in Iraq. They stayed in touch loosely over the years, and Mercado says he started to see worrisome things playing out on social media after Miller retired.
“He was really struggling with his transition which is common amongst veterans. It’s a major life transformation,” Mercado said. “But his posts on social media were concerning, and I knew I needed to reach out to him and connect and just ask him directly if he was thinking about hurting himself.”
In short, Mercado was the connection that Miller needed that night, and it didn’t take long for both men to realize that this wasn’t a unique situation.
On average, 20 veterans are dying every day of suicide, as well as 1 active-duty service member. In 2020, those numbers are considerably higher. According to Mercado, initial numbers show the rate of suicide in the military is up about 20 percent over 2019.
“The trend is alarming right now,” Mercado said. “In the military and veteran population, the average veteran is dying by suicide at a rate that’s twice that of their civilian counterpart. For female veterans, it’s especially high. They are 50 percent more likely to die by suicide than their civilian counterparts.”
Objective Zero aims to reach functional zero—the point at which military service is no longer a distinguishable characteristic in suicide deaths. Mercado and Miller spent two years researching the issue and learned that there were critical gaps in crisis response for veterans. They wanted to create a way for veterans to reach a first level of care before talking to a professional, and today, that’s a large part of what Objective Zero offers.
“It creates this psychological effect of knowing you’re not alone,” Mercado said.
They can then filter by their branch of the military, their role, special job skills, gender, age, and many other options to show ambassadors who would be their best fit. The app allows them to connect and chat with other users or trained ambassadors, receive resources on free or low-cost mental healthcare, and find activities for mindfulness and meditation.
Mercado says they’re also working to develop a web version of the app to make it accessible to more people. He emphasizes the value and importance of the resource for all veterans and service members, not just those who are at risk.
“Not only does the app connect an at-risk user to peer support, but we also have a host of curated health and wellness resources, tools, and activities,” he said. “More importantly, we have suicide prevention training built in, so even if you’re not struggling with thoughts of depression or suicide, having this resource on your phone and at your fingertips is extremely valuable because it provides all these other capabilities as well that are free to everyone.”
Interested in learning more about Objective Zero? Don’t miss Chris Mercado at 1 Million Cups on November 11.
Watch Mercado and Miller tell their story on The Today Show.
Covert Artisan Ales gives a nod to owners’ intelligence backgrounds with clever branding
Downtown Sioux Falls’ newest taproom, Covert Artisan Ales, opened up in June, but Dan and Stacey Berry had already been brewing craft beers out of their west-side warehouse location since 2018.
Opening a taproom had been on their minds since last summer, and when the space at East Bank Depot opened up, they jumped on the opportunity.
The Berrys specialize in wild ales, sours, and spontaneous fermentation—a process that occurs when ales are fermented with yeast and bacteria from the outside air, rather than cultivated yeasts.
Both Dan and Stacey are Army combat veterans with backgrounds in intelligence, and their experience is reflected in the brewery’s branding.
The word, ‘Covert’ in the brewery’s name is a clear nod to their intelligence work, the fox in the logo references “Sly Fox,” a unit Stacey was once stationed at, and even the colors in their logo and branding correspond with code message classifications—red for Secret, orange for Top Secret, blue for Confidential, and green for Unclassified.
Military and intelligence terminology even shows up in some of their beer names, such as “Terminal Leave” or “Support Asset.” Beyond just the branding, Stacey says their prior experience lent well to the intensive aspects of the brewing process as well.
“The work that Dan does, and a lot of what I did in the past, is very detail-oriented, and I think that’s an important aspect of what we do here,” Stacey Berry said. “If you get sloppy you could ruin a recipe.”
If not to appreciate the clever branding, veterans have another excuse to visit Covert—they receive $1 off all pours on Wednesdays.
Additionally, for Veterans Day, Covert plans to release a new beer and offer a special deal for all service members and veterans. They will also be hosting Redders Food Truck in their parking lot.
Visit the taproom at 434 E Eight Street in downtown Sioux Falls.
Beard-BQ aims to build impactful workplace culture
Felix Irving opened his business, Beard-BQ Sauce, in 2015, but he’s been making sauces and rubs for over 20 years.
“Food is my passion, and as I retired this was my opportunity to do something I was passionate about,” Irving said. “I love giving people a culinary experience. It’s sort of like me being a cook in their house in a small way.”
According to Irving, most of his products and flavors are the result of customer feedback and requests, and he always has new ideas in the works.
“I use the least amount of ingredients to make the best product out there,” he said. “If you try our product on anything, you’re still going to taste your meat or your vegetables. It just enhances the flavor of your food and makes it fun again.”
Beard-BQ is based out of Rapid City, but you can find the sauces and rubs at Look’s Marketplace and BBQ Heaven in Sioux Falls.
Irving’s time serving in the Air Force from 1997 to 2014 significantly impacted how he runs his business today and how he plans to build it moving forward.
“I know, as a veteran, that we want to help ourselves. The best way to do that as a business is not by giving money away, but by giving someone a job,” he said. “I want to emulate the culture we had in the military where everyone’s opinion mattered, you’re part of a team, and you have a reason to work your butt off. When you have a boss that cares, you work hard for them, and it builds teamwork and comradery. That’s the kind of environment I want to make.”
National Guard veteran builds a business from passion discovered during her service
In 2012, Leah Braun was about to retire from the National Guard and planned to return to a job in teaching. She had completed her teaching degree while in the Guard, as well as a master’s degree in administrative studies with an emphasis in counseling.
Her husband, Adam, encouraged her to get certified as a professional life coach instead, and Braun says she soon realized it was the perfect match for her skills and interests. As soon as she retired, she launched her coaching business called Resilient Life.
She began with coaching individuals, but as things evolved, Braun began working with teams and developing curricula around a concept she calls core skills.
“Some people call them soft skills, but I hate that expression,” she said. “I call them core skills because you can be technically proficient all day long in your job, but if you can’t get along with people, if you don’t know how to resolve conflict, if you have no leadership skills, you can’t do well in any kind of job.”
Braun started holding training sessions with different businesses, organizations, nonprofits, and even government entities, all centered around developing those core skills. As the business grew, she realized it was time to add consulting to her services as well. Today, her husband, Adam, and Dr. Bill Meirose have joined as partners in the business.
Braun attributes her passion for this line of work to skills she developed during her 22 years of military service as a chaplain assistant.
“As a chaplain assistant, we did very similar things to what I’m doing now,” she said. “It was lots of coaching and training, we facilitated marriage retreats and suicide intervention training, and it was really a seamless transition from what I was doing in the military to what I’m doing now.”
During her service, Braun says she was honored to be part of a program called Strong Bonds.
“The deployment cycle started to ramp up after Desert Storm, the military was realizing that families were suffering, so they created this program, and the idea was to provide marriage retreats, weekend retreats, and family retreats,” she said. “That’s where I really began to love the concept of retreats. You bring people together for a weekend, and you can accomplish so much.”
Today, she continues to channel those passions into her business, which she recently rebranded as NSight Partners. Braun is based out of Rapid City.
VBOC provides business resources and consulting for entrepreneurial veterans
Wendy Klug is the program manager for the Veterans Business Outreach Center of the Dakotas (VBOC). VBOC exists to help veterans, active military, and military spouses turn their ideas into successful businesses through mentorship, advising and free resources.
Those resources cover topics ranging from business ownership options to budgeting and financial projections, and more. Current offerings also include 30 minute to one-hour Zoom trainings covering topics like marketing for the holidays and using Facebook to engage your audience, and three-hour training workshops that help a person decide if they want to turn their idea into a business.
Veterans currently own 9.1 percent of all small businesses (500 employees or less) in the United States.
“Veterans make excellent business owners because they have been trained to pivot when an obstacle enters their path, they have excellent dedication and skills, and they’re willing to put the work into making their business successful,” Klug said.
Klug has worked with both Irving and Braun on their businesses, providing advising on areas such as marketing, website design and growth strategy.
“We’ve been meeting every other week for a couple of months now,” Braun said. “She gives assignments to work on so there’s accountability, and it’s a lot like coaching. I’m very grateful for that.”
Irving echoes those sentiments. He met Klug when he was a few years into his business, and he says they’ve been emailing and calling back and forth ever since.
“She emails me resources and keeps me engaged,” he said. “It’s been a really good experience.”
“The most rewarding part of my job is seeing a client have that ‘I did it’ moment and ‘I can do this’ moment,” she said. “They are able to realize they can pursue their dream and run a successful business. Their success is my success. I get the opportunity to serve those that have served for our country. I can’t possibly think of a better job.”
For more information about NVSBW, visit https://www.sba.gov/national-veterans-small-business-week.