For Some Veterans, Entrepreneurship Is The Way Back To Civilian Life

Nov 11, 2019

Updated Tuesday at 1 p.m. CT

For people who've served in the military, they say getting back into the swing of civilian life can be difficult. That's because the military trains members to be supportive and solutions-oriented, which is not always the case in civilian life. But some veterans are starting businesses as a means of working for purpose rather than money.

When vets come home from service, it's often lonely. Military life is structured differently than that of civilian world, says Andrew Weins while on a tour of his business. He owns a waste recovery company, Green Up Solutions (GUS), that keeps everyday items out of the landfill. The facility utilizes a five-phase recovery process to divert 80% of the material from the landfill. That junk is later repurposed and sold. 

READ: Waukesha County-Based Hauling Business Works To Keep Junk Out Of Landfill

A non-working Pepsi dispenser that Weins keeps as a piece of Americana.
Credit Olivia Richardson

Weins is in the Army Reserve, having served for 15 years.

He says he always knew he wanted to start a business. Growing up on a farm, he and his dad would go trash hunting Wednesday nights – it’s a family tradition of sorts. But it wasn't till after working an unfulfilling job in corporate America that he decided to start GUS.

"Finding your purpose, that's the opportunity. When you're in the military, everything is the military. Then you get out and all of a sudden you are alone." - Andrew Weins

Weins says adjusting to civilian life requires veterans to transform not just transition. He says the loyalty, service and task-oriented focus that the military thrives on isn’t always present in civilian life.

"Finding your purpose, that's the opportunity. When you’re in the military, everything is the military. If you're active duty: you live on base, your family lives on base, you work with the same guys, you have a mission, you have a purpose. Then you get out and all of a sudden you are alone," Weins says.

Weins and crew discuss daily business news. The office is set up close to what life would be like in service. GUS hires other vets and focuses on helping them achieve their goals even if ultimately it means leaving the business.
Credit Olivia Richardson

Kat Ramirez, owner of AdBidtise, says much the same. She also had a corporate job. And despite being persistent, loyal and solutions-oriented, things her military background trained her to be, she says she wasn’t rewarded with a promotion she applied for. After that experience, Ramirez knew it was time start her own business.

"Because I fed into the corporate ladder structure that you're going to do your time and you get rewarded. That's what happened in the military. That's what was supposed to happen in corporate America and the system fails you," Ramirez explains. But then, she says that's when conflicts occur.

Ramirez' business focuses a lot on her experience working in a large media corporation where a lot of small business bids for ads were not accepted. Not because they didn’t bring enough cash, but she says because there was more money to be made elsewhere. With AdBidtise, she focuses on serving women, minorities and vets who don't always get advertising slots with large media corporations.

Green Up Solutions will have a Rage Room (shown here under construction). It will be a place where people can come to destroy items.
Credit Olivia Richardson

Saul Newton is executive director of the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce. He says a lot of ex-military personnel go on to become entrepreneurs.

"In going back to WWII, 49% of WWII vets went on to start their own business. Vets literally built the middle class following WWII and that has continued Korean to post 9/11 vets," Newton explains. "Even today, vets remain incredibly entrepreneurial. They are twice as like to start a business and be self-employed than non-vets are."

Not every vet is an entrepreneur though. As Weins explains, some people just want to serve — it's not about the money or clout. In corporate environments, Weins says the want to be the best for personal gain can cause some veterans to feel isolated.

Across the state, 65,000 small business are operated by veterans. Around 5,000 of those businesses are in Milwaukee, according to the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce.

Correction: 11/12/19

In a previous version of this story, we stated that Weins served in the Army Reserve for 15 years. He currently serves in the Army Reserve, having done so for 15 years. The story has been updated.