We’re proud to present the January 2017 Veteran Small Business Awards to:
1st Place: Courtney Wilson, Army Veteran and Founder/CEO of DropZone for Veterans – $5,000
2nd Place: Tara Hutchinson, Army Veteran and Founder of Tara Hutch Fine Jewelry – $3,000
3rd Place: Robert Wray, Navy Veteran and CEO of BlueStar HonorCare (a BlueStar sponsor) – $2,000
Coming from across the country, from Boston, Massachusettes; San Antonio, Texas; and Rockville, Maryland; our winners this month have created businesses to help veterans in tons of different ways.
First Place: DropZone for Veterans
The first place winner, DropZone for Veterans, is a central online database of thousands of businesses and organizations that support military veterans. The goal is to be similar to the Yelp of resources for military veterans. Courtney Wilson, founder and CEO of DropZone for Veterans, says, it’s so easy if for anyone searching for fitness centers, nonprofits to get involved with or even good hospitals to search on Yelp or Groupon. Nothing like this existed for military veterans that show all of the benefits they’ve earned.
The idea came from an experience she encountered with a previous soldier she worked with while in Afghanistan. Her fellow soldier was going through deep depression and PTSD. She recommended him to a healing retreat for military veterans. He came back from the retreat and she could see the change in him.
Life Changing Resources All in One Place
She thought, “If one resource can literally save his life, what if I could connect him with two or three resources. Or what if I could connect him with fitness, family or employment resources. What would that be like? What if I could tell more veterans about all of these types of resources?”
Roughly 22 veterans a day commit suicide, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs. And about 70 percent of veterans who took their own lives were not regular users of VA services.
Building a database full of resources that not only the VA provides, but presenting all resources to veterans can be life changing. The majority of veterans find out about resources by word of mouth and less than half of veterans use their resources as a benefit. DropZone for Veterans is the central place for 50,000 and more resources available for veterans ranging from therapeutic healing retreats to full college scholarships.
Courtney Wilson plans to use her $5,000 to focus on veteran resources. She wants to connect with veterans and let them know about this resource and how easy the system is to use. Since she started DropZone for Veterans in 2015, she’s continuing to refine the website, process and user experience.
Lessons Learned in the Army
“In the Army, it’s either a good decision, bad decision or no decision,” Courtney said. “Getting started and launching is what’s important. Letting users test it and getting feedback allows you to get better faster.”
Courtney spent six years in the Army as an Engineer Captain and holds an MBA from Babson College, a master’s degree in management and leadership and she was an English major with a concentration in creative writing during undergraduate school.
Second Place: Tara Hutch Fine Jewelry
Our second place winner, Tara Hutchinson also has a unique story. Tara Hutch Fine Jewelry creates unique jewelry made from precious metals and untreated stones. Tara Hutchinson founded her business after getting injured in battle in Iraq when her truck was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). She woke up five days later to discover she had lost her right leg. This destruction led to permanent brain damage and she was diagnosed with a Parkinson’s-like movement disorder.
Tragic Accident to Stunning Jewelry
Her doctors advised her to begin a hobby that utilized her fine motor skills, which could help regain some control of her body. Tara started making jewelry in 2006. Three months later, her tremors had diminished. It wasn’t until the next year that Tara started showing her jewelry to customers at an open house. She saw the positive reaction and a newfound confidence that lead her to her mission of Tara Hutch Fine Jewelry: “I create to help women feel good about themselves and celebrate their differences.”
As a self-taught jewelry artist, Tara made her company official in 2013 and continues to rejoice in the fact that she now has control of her movement disorder. That tragic incident eventually led her to building her own business and helping other women feel beautiful when they may think they’re not, because she had felt the same way after her injuries.
Third Place: BlueStar HonorCare
The third place winner, a VetLikeMe sponsor, CEO of BlueStar HonorCare, Robert Wray, graduated from the Naval Academy, served on ship with nuclear power plants, served in the reserves, was called back into active duty recently and is now a retired two-star Navy admiral. He also has several years of experience in the business world, working at startups and building small businesses of his own.
After retiring from the Navy, he noticed retired military couples like his parents and in-laws in their 80s, weren’t getting the safest care and losing the independence they wanted for the best retirement possible.
BlueStar HonorCare was created to help America’s aging veterans and family members maintain healthy, safe and independent lives from their homes through technology including medical alert systems, health monitoring devices and personal safety devices. They’re dedicated to providing high-quality customer service to every senior citizen with personal calls.
The company is veteran owned and operated and is focused on serving veterans and their families. They donate a portion of every dollar of revenue to veteran causes. With the $2,000 BlueStar HonorCare plans to give deserving veterans, from WWII and the Korean War who can’t afford their services, $100 scholarships to use any of their products or services.
Applying This Inspiration to Your Own Veteran Business Ownership
The StreetShares Foundation is dedicated to rewarding exceptional veteran-owned small businesses. DropZone for Veterans, Tara Hutch Fine Jewelry and BlueStar HonorCare serve veterans in different ways and continue to make an impact on the lives of veterans. We hope these stories have inspired you to continue your journey on helping the veteran community through nonprofits like ours or through your own business. Learn more about the StreetShares Foundation here and if you’re ready to apply for the veteran business grants, click here to first qualify by downloading our featured ebook.