Military veterans find natural fit in careers as entrepreneurs

Military service offers parallels to entrepreneurship — whether deployed overseas or in a boardroom, according to Andrew Belt.

“One of the things that has always helped me in operating my business is my ability to analyze the environment and be vigilant,” Belt said.

A U.S. Marine Corps veteran and serial entrepreneur based in the Kansas City area, Belt is the founder of Vettera, a property services firm, and Aloe, a  startup that provides health insurance counseling to small businesses.

While Belt is now worlds away from the combat zone, he said skills acquired in the military prove useful for veterans-turned-founders in the global business arena.

“There’s something unique about American freedom, and a lot of it has to do with the ability of our entrepreneurs to produce, penetrate and participate in the economic engine world wide,” said Belt, who also founded ValVets, an appraisal management company that was acquired in 2016.

When Belt was exposed to the banking industry, he saw chaos in the form of shifting regulations of valuation and a mortgage industry that was falling apart, he said. It was the right time to enter the market, Belt said.

He’d dealt with disruption firsthand before.

“We were in a city called An Nasiriyah in Iraq, and we were in the middle of a firefight realizing that a 2,000-pound bomb was going to be dropped on our position,” he said. “It required some really quick thinking and the ability to separate out the real problem from all the chaos.”

Before founding KC Crew, Luke Wade served in Iraq.

Glen Dakan points to another perk of building a business after military service: the worldwide network of bonds and connections available to many veteran founders. Dakan served in the U.S. Navy as a pilot for 11 years before transitioning into the Navy Reserve, and he’s co-founder of Liquify Group, a website for buying used office equipment.

“You form connections with people that you meet in other countries, you get an understanding on how the government works or what industry is popular there,” Dakan said.

In India, China and the Middle East, Dakan saw a huge demand for rare equipment that businesses are looking to sell — either because they’re going out of business or simply no longer have use for it, he said.

Dakan, who is also the founder of Prestio, a startup that makes software for auto dealerships, sold a car to a friend in the Middle East in 2016.

“So I have a friend who lives in Baghdad, and he’s in the medical community and we’re looking at how we might be able to help furnish his lab with equipment out there,” Dakan said.

More than being a profitable endeavor, international business is about human connection, Dakan said. After living in Iraq for two years, he developed an affinity for the country and its people.

“It’s the idea of fulfilling a need and giving a new technology access to place that now has money, and is trying to restabilize,” Dakan said. “I want them to do well.”

The military teaches discipline, structure and organizations, all of which are integral for entrepreneurs, Luke Wade said. Wade is the founder of KC Crew, which organizes rec sports leagues and special events.

Wade, who celebrated his 21st birthday overseas while deployed in Iraq, joined the Army National Guard when he was 17.

“Most businesses can’t run without some sort of structure, whether that’s the budget forecasting or a system of who’s in charge, and who’s following rules and orders,” Wade said. “The military is very well known for its structure. So I think it’s a natural transition for anyone who has been in the military to move into an entrepreneur role.”

About 14% of all veterans become entrepreneurs, according to Col. Miguel Howe. He served in the U.S. Army for more than 24 years and had the opportunity to visit 43 countries, he said.

“At the end of the day, entrepreneurship rewards effort,” said Howe, a fellow at the George W. Bush Institute who recently spoke in Kansas City. “As of 2018, there are 2.5 million small businesses owned by military veterans, which generate over 1.1 trillion in receipts.”

Building the economy and supporting veteran entrepreneurs go hand in hand, Howe said.

“The same types of qualities and traits that made them successful in the military align perfectly in terms of starting a business,” Howe said. “Whether that is skill, character, values or the work ethic that is required in military service, those equip them to succeed as an entrepreneur as well.”


This story was produced through a collaboration between Missouri Business Alert and Startland News.

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