Four years ago in Iraq, Justin Constantine took a bullet in his head that tore through his face.
But the life-changing event, which involved numerous surgeries, was just the beginning of Constantine’s story: Once he got settled at home, the former Marine, now 40, and his wife, Dahlia, started a business, with a $20,000 loan guaranteed through the Small Business Administration.
“That financing was really critical,” said Constantine, who was helped with what’s called an SBA Patriot Express loan for his T-shirt company Iraq and Back. The two-person operation is close to paying back the loan and is in the process of developing sales representatives to reach out to individual military units.
Also, as part of Constantine’s T-shirt company, customers can buy shirts for $10 for wounded soldiers, which are sent to the Warrior and Family Support Center in San Antonio. The purchase is a tax-deductible contribution.
"It's indicative of solid military training that can transition into the civilian workforce and be successful and productive.""
“More recently, I have also attended a fair amount of networking events sponsored by the SBA,” said Constantine, “and these have led to some great contacts.”
On Thursday, Veterans Day, the SBA announced new programs and the expansion of existing programs that provide funds and teach veterans how to run businesses.
According to the SBA, one in seven veterans is self-employed or a small business owner and about one quarter of veterans say they are interested in starting and buying their own businesses. The percentage is even higher among women veterans, noted the SBA.
Two years ago, the SBA partnered with Syracuse University to start a entrepreneurship program for disabled veterans on six campuses, including the University of Connecticut School of Business, Mays Business School at Texas A&M, UCLA Anderson School of Management, Florida State University’s College of Business and the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University. This year it added the E.J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University.
Veteran-owned business are twice as likely to succeed as businesses owned by non-veterans, according to studies, said Ret. Army Colonel Jill Chambers, who works with the university program and is chairman and CEO of organizationThis Able Vet, which helps all veterans. "It's indicative of solid military training that can transition into the civilian workforce and be successful and productive," she said.
The agency’s program for female vets, which includes training and networking, is expected to serve 1,400 women over a three-year period.
It turns out that one business was not enough for Constantine. Six months ago, with two other wounded veterans, he started a film and video production company called Command Media, which produces corporate marketing videos, educational and training films, audio and video podcasts.
Although Constantine didn’t need SBA help for the production company, he’s clear on one thing—that customers and businesses need to consider veterans when shopping for goods or services.
“I encourage everyone in this country to work with veteran-owned businesses and also hire veterans in their companies,” said Constantine.
“Frankly, it is irritating to me to hear members of the business community or of major nonprofit organizations say that they can never do enough for wounded warriors," he added, "but then they won’t hire companies because they may cost just a little bit more than the bigger, more established companies.”