Veterans seize self-employment opportunities

More military veterans are starting their own businesses. According to aging data from the Small Business Association, they are 45% more likely to be self-employed than people who never served. Matthew Pavelek, vice president of membership at the National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA), estimates that figure to be higher, since more men and women have returned from the Middle East. Re-immersing into civilian life, veterans, like Kacey Schlundt of Mishawaka, are applying military skills to self-starter opportunities.

"It wasn't anything I ever set out to do," said Schlundt.

Schlundt's business, Bearded Warrior Company, opened last month. He makes all-natural beard oils, products he never used until growing a beard after his military contract ended two years ago. So far, business is strong. Schlundt made $800 in the first month.

"There's a lot of Amish community around here,"he said. "I've sold a large sum to some Amish fellas."

A roadside bomb hit Schlundt in Iraq, causing traumatic brain injury (TBI). He lives in a lot of pain, limiting career options. However, making oils -- and owning a business -- provide some peace of mind.

"I think I've earned the right to find something that makes me happy again -- and I'm willing to bet that's why veterans are likely to be small business owners," he said. "It's a way to get some pride back after losing quite a bit."

Fortune 500 companies are carving room for veteran sub-contractor. Pavelek says 175 major corporations have set goals to use veterans in their supplier diversity programs -- nearly double from 2007.

Schlundt plans to give a portion of his sales to a homeless veterans shelter and families who have lost a soldier in combat. Local artists are designing the Bearded Warrior Company website -- free of cost. He says the beard oil venture is a stepping stone to his ultimate dream: owning a brewery.

To order beard oils, Schlundt says you can e-mail him at: kacey.schlundt@yahoo.com.