Mark Rockefeller calls post-9/11 U.S. military veterans “the next greatest generation,” as soldiers, aviators, sailors and Marines have returned home with a mindset of restarting their lives by starting small businesses and being their own bosses.
But there was a distinct difference for this generation and the World War II greatest generation, of which 49 percent embarked on staring their own small businesses namely the financial crisis that crippled bank lending in 2008.
“Veterans make good entrepreneurs because they are gritty,” Rockefeller told Technical.ly DC. “The place to be is helping veterans, because they are the ones who historically start businesses and banks aren’t lending to them.”
Rockefeller, 40, who was raised in a military family and served in the U.S. Air Force from 2001 to 2010, retired as a captain, got a job as a finance lawyer in New York City. Then, in 2013, inspiration struck. He and his friend Mickey Konson, a senior executive at Capital One and South African Air Force vet, knew the deep truth that veterans will do anything for each other, from never leaving behind their comrades on the battlefield to paying back loans. The pair eventually quit their jobs and founded StreetShares, Inc., in Rockefeller’s basement in Reston, Va.
StreetShares provides small business 3-36 month term loans and lines of credit up to $100,000. The company also offers government contract financing and veteran business bonds. To qualify for a loan, business owners must have at least $100,000 in revenue or have been in business for one year. Good credit is not necessarily grounds for a loan rejection, either, since many service members have higher divorce rates, move frequently and have pushed their limits in more ways than one.
“We’ve built a machine here, and it’s time to really fuel it,” Rockefeller said. “We have found that the veterans are more credit worthy than non veterans, because they know that the money behind their loans comes from fellow veterans, and we capture that loyalty and make sure they pay back their loans.”
After securing $1.2 million in seed funding and a $5.5 million Series A, the fintech company just closed on $23 million in fresh equity capital. The Series B round was led by a $20 million investment from Rotunda Capital Partners, LLC, and $3 million from existing investors, including veteran-focused venture firm, Stony Lonesome Group. The company has since expanded to an office with a 35-person staff, and is now looking to double its staff and move to a new location. With the raise the company is looking to hire front and back-end developers, designers and other tech talent.
.@StreetShares proves that #Veteran small businesses have a big economic impact. With our new $23M funding round, we will be stepping up our efforts to support military, veterans, and their families: https://t.co/XjosE3nRhQ pic.twitter.com/3Bn5VPRmJR
— Peter Somerville (@PeterSomerville) January 24, 2018
“Securing this funding is a huge step in StreetShares’ growth and we’re excited to have the support from a great firm like Rotunda Capital,” said Konson in a statement. “StreetShares is proud to fuel this special class of great American small businesses, and our partnership with Rotunda demonstrates that we are just getting started.”
One of the first companies StreetShares funded was Combat Flip Flops, a company whose founders were Green Berets who returned to Afghanistan and repurposed a factory to make sandals and jewelry from deactivated land mines. The company later appeared on Shark Tank, and made a $300,000 deal from Mark Cuban, Daymond John and Lori Greiner.
“Their first loan came from us because the banks wouldn’t touch them,” Rockefeller said. “They’re killing it today.”