The parking lot of Back Home Catering’s Room 62 was filled Wednesday evening as several community leaders and veterans gathered for the first meeting of the Kentucky Veteran Business Alliance.
“When I couldn’t find a (parking) space, my first thought was, ‘This is incredible,’” said Chuck Eads, vice president of lending at Fort Knox Federal Credit Union.
The alliance is the brainchild of Alejandro “Alex” Ramirez, Kentucky Innovation Network Director Lisa Boone said.
After retiring from the military in 2013 with 22 years of service, Ramirez started his own business. Ramirez’s family-owned, online store, Universal Spartan – where shoppers can find military, law enforcement, self-defense, hunting, camping and survival gear – since has turned into a thriving success, Boone said.
Ramirez didn’t stop there. Now he wants to help other fellow veteran entrepreneurs become successes and he plans to do that through the alliance.
Ramirez said the goal is to create an environment where all veteran-owned businesses in the community and state are united and work together, create new businesses and increase the job force within the alliance.
“It’s no stretch to say that America’s military service members are the country’s best leaders and this is especially true when it comes to entrepreneurship,” he said, adding there has been a decline in veteran-owned businesses.
“I want to change this through the Kentucky Veteran Business Alliance and bring back the esprit de corps, unity of effort, so we can grow as a team, not individuals, and increase veteran businesses in Kentucky,” he said.
Ramirez said the alliance will look to develop an information operation plan to attract more veterans transitioning from the military to join the group. He said members will look to guide and mentor new veterans on how to be an entrepreneur and how to create a new business.
Being a member of the alliance allows veterans to have access to a database of all veteran businesses and supporters, connect and gain access to government and corporate contracts, gain exposure and education on all aspects of being a veteran-owned business and gain an invitation to all networking/training events.
Ramirez said Boone, Patricia Krausman of the Kentucky Small Business Development Center and retired Col. Darrall Henderson, director of procurement and technical assistance — which assists veterans with obtaining government contracts and obtaining needed certifications — all have been supportive in creating the alliance.
All three were at Wednesday night’s meeting, as was retired Maj. Gen. Mike Davidson, who served as keynote speaker.
Davidson gave those in attendance a few “nuggets” of advice, such as, “Don’t stick with your business plan if your plan is not working. ... Find something else to do.”
Davidson also encouraged business owners to use resources available to them such as procurement and technical assistance or the Innovation Network.
“I jump out of bed every morning and think, ‘What can Darrall Henderson do for me today?’” he said.
Davidson also said to take the opportunity and learn from fellow veterans.
“If you’re a veteran-owned business and you’re encountering a problem, there is another veteran who has found a solution to that problem. You just have to ask,” he said. “I have never found a single veteran who is not able, willing or eager to help a fellow veteran.”
State Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, who is on the House’s Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee, also attended the meeting. He applauded Ramirez for organizing the alliance, and presented Ramirez with a coin from the committee, which is presented to those who distinguish themselves.
Moore said he once asked a man, “What makes a great leader?” The man responded, “A great leader makes other great leaders.”
“They don’t just focus on their own ability, they produce other great leaders,” Moore said.
For more information on the Kentucky Veteran Business Alliance, contact Ramirez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 270-501-2210.