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‘Boots to Business’: Vets transition to civilian life from active duty

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Two Marines in Marshfield are on a mission – but it’s much different than when they were deployed to places such as Iraq and Djibouti in Africa.

Lanora Samaniego and Gates Wagner are working to equip and inspire U.S. military veterans who want to become small-business owners. The motivations, capabilities and struggles of veterans living in the civilian world are something they know well.

The pair founded MotoMe LLC in May 2016, offering fitness, life and business coaching out of their studio in Marshfield. They began by mentoring those exiting active duty on how to best use their education funding benefits, known as the GI Bill.

“You fulfill a contract in the military, and you come out knowing that you need to start making a living, and not necessarily all of your skills are going to transfer over to the civilian side,” said Wagner, a former Marine. “How can you make an impact in the world now that you aren’t being told how to? You have the skills but you aren’t necessarily being dispatched in a specific way through a platoon. You are having to choose, and it’s scary.”

Many veterans entering the civilian life feel lost, she said, but education can be the key to re-entry.

Samaniego and Wagner coach veterans on how to make a plan – plotting out what each individual wants for their future.

“In the military, they have an expression that ‘chow is continuous,’” Samaniego said, referencing the food necessary to fuel troops. “So, I really wanted to let them know that your education is continuous. You have to be a lifelong learner.”

After leaving the military, Samaniego said she shied away from spending time with other veterans to distance herself from the war stories. But she later realized the military colleagues provided a critical support system.

Applying strengths
Through MotoMe, Samaniego now works with veterans, and others, to apply their strengths to the workplace.

“Finding that spark in them again to pursue something greater than themselves – out here, outside of the large, cohesive unit within the military – I think is their biggest challenge,” she said.

Given necessary leadership roles in the military, many veterans prefer to go work for themselves.

In Missouri, roughly 11 percent of those self-employed are veterans, said Don Reese, branch manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Springfield office. About 2.5 million veterans own businesses in the United States, according to SBA data Reese provided, employing 5 million and generating $1.1 trillion in annual receipts.

In Springfield, veterans in recent years have returned home and started auto detailing shops, window cleaning companies and franchise businesses.

Beating the odds
Samaniego and Wagner on Oct. 30 spoke to a mostly veteran audience at MSU’s The eFactory about their experience as business owners. The panel discussion hosted by the SBA and Missouri State University’s Small Business & Technology Development Center was part of the SBA’s National Veterans Small Business Week.

While the discussion addressed loan types, legal advice, insurance options, business plans and taxes for veterans, Samaniego spoke with a motivational tone.

She reminded the veterans they already have beaten the odds – some of them surviving dangerous combat missions.

“They already have the skills that are needed to endure the demands of a growing small business,” she said, “and their chances of succeeding are going to be greater than a civilian.”

She applied military jargon to business situations, to connect with the audience. For example, “Beans, bullets and Band-Aids” is an expression that refers to the basic things a military organization needs to complete a mission. A new business has its own essentials, she said: education, mentoring, financing, insurance, and a quality product or service.

Reese said financing is one of the biggest hurdles he helps military families overcome when starting a business.

“Acquiring capital to fund new business ventures is one of the biggest challenges for service members, veterans and military spouses beginning their entrepreneurial journeys,” he said via email.

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