Brent Peacock spends his days in Panama City, helping military veterans transition from serving the country to starting a business and serving customers.
In the United States, veterans are great entrepreneurs. According to the U.S. Census, nearly one-in-10, or 2.4 million, small businesses are veteran-owned. These businesses employ almost 6 million Americans and generate more than a trillion dollars in revenue.
A 2012 report released by the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy also found that veterans are 45 percent more likely to start a business when compared to those with no active-duty military experience.
As the associate director of the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center Region IV, Peacock sees the success of veteran-owned small businesses firsthand. Designed to develop and retain veteran-owned businesses around the U.S., VBOCs provide training, workshops and counseling to veterans, reservists and activity duty military interested in starting or expanding a business.
Funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, there are 10 VBOCs throughout the country. The Panama City center serves Region IV which is comprised of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee. In addition to funding from the SBA, each VBOC partners with a host institution, such as university. Gulf Coast State College hosts the Region IV Center.
“VBOCs have been helping veterans since 1999 when House Bill 687 formed the SBA’s Office of Veteran Business Development,” said Peacock. “It was part of an initiative to help veterans participate in the U.S. economy and find opportunities in entrepreneurship after their service.”
According to Peacock, the Region IV VBOC has seen tremendous success. “In 2012, we helped 51 brand new businesses get off the ground,” said Peacock. “That’s roughly one new business a week.”
Peacock also works with veterans who already own businesses — people like Michael and Kristen Nevils, owners of M.R. Crafts, a product-design firm based in Davie. Michael is a disabled Army veteran who served as a Department of Defense specialist documenting military activities in the United States and abroad. The Nevils currently offer a product called Watersafe, a portable emergency water storage system created after Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
“We realized just how frustrating it is to wait in line for water,” said Nevils. “It is difficult when you see people having issues getting safe water for themselves and their families after a disaster.”
So the Nevils did something about it. In 2007, they developed the Watersafe, a device that allows people to transport and store 65 gallons of water efficiently in a disaster. Two years later in 2009, the Nevils sought help from Peacock and the VBOC to grow their business.
“The VBOC has been wonderful,” said Nevils. “We’ve had guidance that helped us win government contracts and develop a solid game plan to grow our company and be successful.”
VBOCs don’t provide loans, legal or accounting services. “What we do is assign a business consultant to work with each client,” said Peacock. “That consultant has expertise in the business a veteran is interested in starting or retaining.”