Heroes First: Veteran Innovators and Entrepreneurs in America Serving our country long after the military.

By Eric Samson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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For all they do for our country, we often forget that veterans didn't just serve to protect us. Very often, they also serve among us. You may not believe it, but 9 percent of all businesses in America are owned or run by veterans. This is clearly a powerful showing of the tenacity of veteran entrepreneurs. Even after they've served our country, they return to their communities and continue to give back.

We've compiled a list of just a few of the amazing stories of veterans who were, and always will be, heroes first but also incredible entrepreneurs.

Related: These 12 Remarkable Veterans Changed Business Forever

Anago Cleaning Systems.

Sgt. David Povlitz served in the U.S. Army in Korea before returning to his native Michigan and starting a cleaning company with his three brothers, Rob, Chuck and Marty. After 15 years in the business, they dissolved the company and went their separate ways professionally.

Povlitz moved to Florida, where his mother resided, and began anew with Anago Cleaning Systems. Anago, which is Greek for "lead up," is so much more than just a professional and personal cleaning service. It's a full-fledged business juggernaut! Anago operates more than 1,400 franchises around the country and is consistently gaining regard and high marks for its top-quality service.

After 26 years in the business, and at age 68, Povlitz is still the CEO and shows no signs of slowing down.

RuckPack: Combat Nutrition.

Many great business ideas have no doubt come from a group of people huddled around a campfire. Although, we're sure that very few of those campfires were burning in the deserts of Afghanistan. But that's just the place where RuckPack's founder and partial-owner, U.S. Marine Robert Dyer, had the idea for his supplement line that aims to provide nutrition, energy and focus for consumers both on and off the battlefield.

And RuckPack seems to be doing pretty well. Recently, Dyer went on the popular television show Shark Tank and was able to secure additional funding from two of the "sharks." That helped RuckPack grow into a $5 million company. Dyer stepped down from his position as CEO in 2014 and was succeeded by Marine Special Operations officer and combat wounded veteran, Derek Herrera.

RuckPack is still 80 percent service member-owned and employs many veterans. The company also donates 10 percent of all profits to charities that support veterans such as MARSOC, Navy SEAL and Green Beret foundations.

Related: The 5 Best Financing Options for Veterans

The many businesses of a female Marine.

After serving her country for eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps, going so far as to achieve the rank of captain, Mary Kennedy Thompson moved swiftly into the business world. She opened a Cookies by Design franchise and by 1997, she'd opened two more.

Soon after her successes as an entrepreneur, Thompson began working at Mr. Rooter and, in 2004, was promoted to president. Under Thompson's leadership, the company excelled in market penetration and sales. Mr. Rooter began earning awards for Top Performer, Outstanding Customer Service and the Masters Award. In 2013, Thompson was given the Bonny Levine Award, the International Franchise Association's highest award for women mentors who've greatly impacted franchising.

By the end of her first year as president of Mr. Rooter, U.S. Business Review selected Thompson as one of its 2007 Editor's Choice Executives of the Year. She is also the former chairman of the IFA's VetFran (for veteran franchisers) Committee and has received her certified franchise executive designation from the IFA Educational Foundation.

During the nine years Thompson was at the helm, Mr. Rooter received high grades and prestigious rankings, including Entrepreneur magazine's Franchise 500, Franchise Business Review's Franchisee Satisfaction Award, PHC News Top 100 Contractors and USA Today's Top 50 Franchises for Veterans.

Now, Thompson is the Chief Operating Officer for the Dwyer Group, a holding company for 11 serviced-based franchise organizations.

Related: Why Veterans Take the Initiative to Explore Entrepreneurship


The three profiles here are just scratching the surface of all the veteran-owned and operated businesses in America. But examining these three makes it clear that veterans want to continue to serve their country even after they've left the military.

This Memorial Day, make it a point to patronize a veteran-owned business. They served us, so we should serve them.
Wavy Line
Eric Samson

Founder of Group8A

Eric Samson is the founder of Group8A, a boutique consulting firm focused on developing and executing integrated marketing and digital solutions for companies of all sizes.


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