November 11th marks Veterans Day 2018, when the country pauses to salute veterans who have served our country. Startup Alleghenies (SUA) ( jumpstarted a movement to create the next vibrant startup zone in the Alleghenies. Since launching in June 2017, the nonprofit has registered 221 entrepreneurs from Blair, Cambria and Somerset Counties. Among those entrepreneurs, Startup Alleghenies has been especially proud to support veterans who dream of bringing their big ideas to market.

“Veterans make a significant impact on the economy as owners of their own businesses,” said Debbi Prosser, director business-development, Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission (SAP&DC). “Right now, our Entrepreneur Coaches are working with eleven veterans who are starting businesses in areas as diverse as transportation, CrossFit exercise, gluten-free baking, catering, hospitality, and the development of a shotgun retention device for law enforcement. It’s possible that other entrepreneurs in our ecosystem also are veterans, but haven’t yet let us know about their military service. We hope they will reach out since we’re here to help.” Prosser added.

Vet-Owned Companies to Watch:

Some veterans who have launched successful businesses with help from Startup Alleghenies Coaches and partners include:

Army Veteran, Vinzeal Wolf started ETAL Transfer Authority. Wolf identified a gap in prepaid, scheduled, and dependable transportation in his community that was hindering business growth and industry development. Wolf’s company provides affordable transportation between Pittsburgh and Johnstown.

Wolf believes his military experience played a big part in the development of his company. “Not only do I credit my service for my drive, tenacity, and discipline, but it also shaped who I am today. I learned there are only three roles to play in life. You lead, you follow, or you get out of the way.” He’s also grateful for the many hours of support he received SUA Entrepreneur Coach, Jose Luis Otero, “hammering out a successful business plan over several weeks in Otero’s JARI office.” SUA partner Donald Bonk, director of Entrepreneurial Alchemy and consultant at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) also played a key role in getting his business started, according to Wolf.

Coast Guard Veteran, Danielle Tissue created Food Fairies, LLC, specializing in gluten-free bakery treats in Somerset, while maintaining her “day job” at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. @dessertcater

Marine Corps Veteran, John Skelley founded his CrossFit Excursion affiliate in Johnstown, which quickly became one of the area’s most popular gyms. @crossfitexcursion

Marine Corps Veteran, Mark Kasterko founded MT Arms, LLC and MT Tactical. Kasterko invented a shotgun retention device for law enforcement. @MTarmsRnB

And Air Force Vet Dale Leslie has proven that age isn’t a barrier to entrepreneurship or garnering support from Startup Alleghenies. Dale is 90 years old, but he’s taken the first step to defining his business idea and launch plan with SUA Somerset Coach, Dan Parisi.

SUA Support from Idea to Market:

SUA Coaches routinely conduct outreach to veteran’s organizations throughout the area. “We already have a great relationship with Veteran Community Initiatives (VCI) and Department of Veteran Affairs in Cambria County,” said Jose Luis Otero, Startup Alleghenies coach and director at Johnstown Area Regional Industries (JARI). “I attend their job fairs and other resource days. Recently one person came to me as a referral from VCI because he needed help with hiring,” Otero added.

SUA and its network of partners provide the kind of support veterans find most helpful, including: workshops and networking events, business planning, financial advice, and social media and marketing strategies Help with critical business plan development also is available through Startup Alleghenies’ partner, St. Francis University Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Facts about Vets in Central Pa. and across the State:

Supporting veterans is especially relevant in Central Pa. According to a report issued in December 2017 by the Center for Workforce Information and Analysis,* nearly 346,000 veterans between 18 and 64 in 2016 lived in Pennsylvania, representing 4.4% of the population and making it the eighth highest State in the US in number of vets. In Central Pa, Somerset had the highest percentage of vets per population at 8.2%, with Cambria County at 6.6% and Blair County at 5.7%.

Prosser cited research from the Center of Excellence for Veteran Entrepreneurship that identified core skills veterans possess because of their military training that make them among the most successful entrepreneurs. They include: good decision-making in chaotic environments, high levels of confidence, independence and self-efficacy.

#StartRHRN, #SUAsalutesVets #EntrepreneursWanted

About Startup Alleghenies

Startup Alleghenies (SUA) is a free program that connects existing and potential entrepreneurs with experienced Coaches to help them navigate a vast network of partners at economic development groups, private organizations, colleges and universities. It was launched with a POWER grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), a federal-state partnership investing in the socioeconomic future of 420 counties in 13 states in the Appalachian region. The support of the PA Department of Community &Economic Development also was instrumental in establishing SUA.

*Sourced by US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, report published 12/17