A cafe owner proudly stands in his restaurant facing the camera smiling.
Upon leaving the U.S. armed forces, many veterans grapple with returning to civilian life while continuing to give of themselves to others. These entrepreneurs found a solution. — Getty Images/Carlina Teteris

Veterans own approximately 5% to 6% of all businesses in the U.S. That amounts to over 300,000 businesses that often employ military personnel. This is important because transitioning back into civilian life can be challenging. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2019 reported that 47% of post-9/11 veterans admitted that assimilation was difficult.

Some service members understand that maintaining a sense of camaraderie after leaving the armed forces is imperative. They become entrepreneurs and endeavor to give back to their fellow comrades. These five small businesses are committed to serving the military community beyond the battlefield.

Alpha Coffee

After serving for 21 years in the military, Army veteran Lt. Col. (Ret.) Carl Churchill and his wife Lori Churchill cashed in their life savings to start their own business. On September 11, 2010, their coffee e-commerce site, Lock-n-Load Java, went live. In 2016, the company rebranded to Alpha Coffee and now has two brick-and-mortar shops, a subscription service, and 35 employees.

While deployed, Carl drank his fair share of bad coffee. It was over an enjoyable cup of Joe at home that the Churchills decided that running their own coffee company would not only be a feasible endeavor, but they could also give back to military personnel in the process.

Through their Coffee for Troops program, every purchase by a customer — whether online or in store — contributes to the company’s ability to donate bags of coffee to service members stationed in active combat zones. At this time, Alpha Coffee is going one step further by matching every order placed with a donation for deployed troops. Since 2010, the company has sent about 20,795 bags of coffee to deployed service members.


In 2015, former Lt. Col. Ken Robbins began pitching investors on the idea of MILLIE, an online service-based company that helps military families move during a PCS (permanent change of station). In 2016, MILLIE made the Forbes list of the top 25 veteran-founded startups in America. After years of building a team of like-minded individuals with shared experiences, Robbins has likely created the largest veteran and military spouse real estate referral network in the U.S.

MILLIE offers military families information about the PCS process and how the Veterans Affairs loan works. Its bread and butter is connecting families that are PCSing with scouts and agentheroes.

MILLIE scouts are current or former military spouses who can tour properties and help make decisions on a family’s behalf. An agenthero is a real estate agent who has either been a service member or who’s been part of a military family. They understand the military lifestyle and PCS process, so they can alleviate the stress of moving. MILLIE’s agenthero network consists of over 1,000 real estate professionals.

Veterans own approximately 5% to 6% of all businesses in the U.S.

Combat Flip Flops

Founded in 2012 by U.S. Army Rangers Matthew Griffin and Donald Lee, Combat Flip Flops is a footwear and apparel brand. The products are manufactured in Colombia, Afghanistan, and Laos.

The company’s intention is to help rebuild these nations by creating jobs and improving people’s lives. Of course, the star of the show is its flip flops, which could almost be MIL-SPEC if they weren’t open-toed. Combat Flip Flops’ shoes and apparel come with a limited lifetime warranty. The apparel consists of graphic tees, many of which feature the saying “Be a Better Human.” Accessories that are also offered include morale patches, jewelry, and the Shemagh, which is a scarf made of 100% cotton (sourced and loomed in Kabul).

The mission of Combat Flip Flops had always been to use profits to help fund education for girls in Afghanistan. With the help of its customers, the company was able to enroll roughly 1,000 girls in school. However, in 2021, that mission ended due to the fall of Kabul, the new government, and Aid Afghanistan for Education shutting down its 13 schools.

Combat Flip Flops is still giving back through an organization called One More Wave. This nonprofit helps veterans find healing with surf therapy and has awarded over 580 grants since 2015.

14th Star Brewing Co.

Vermont-brewed and proudly named after the state’s entrance into the Union, 14th Star Brewing Co. is dedicated to bringing the “highest quality beer possible to your can or glass.” Steve Gagner and Matt Kehaya dreamt of life postdeployment and drafted the business plan for their brewery while serving in Afghanistan.

From the company’s start in 2012, the two couldn’t keep up with demand. Now, the brewery produces about 8,000 barrels of beer — or the equivalent of 1.2 million cans — per year. In addition to its taproom in St. Albans City, 14th Star distributes to other establishments across the East Coast.

Whether through its fundraising efforts, collaborations, or hosting events, 14th Star places a high emphasis on community and supporting important causes. “We like to say that 14th Star builds communities. We just happen to brew world-class beer,” said Gagner in this video.

Environmental sustainability is also a big priority for 14th Star. It is committed to reducing waste by partnering with local farms to collect leftover mash, which serves as a food source for animals; investing in renewable energy; and encouraging customers to return their plastic can carriers via a taproom take-back program.

Battle Bars

“Built from the ground up,” Battle Bars is a protein bar company committed to never using artificial sweeteners or preservatives. Brothers Ian and Colin Sparks saw a health crisis in terms of the quality of food Americans consume and offering a healthy alternative was their solution.

Along with a team of veterans and CEO Alex Witt, the pair aimed to formulate the highest-value, best-tasting protein bar on the market. The bars are made in the U.S., infused with collagen and antioxidants, and are gluten free.

Battle Bars partners with Operation Enduring Warrior to assist wounded military and law enforcement vets through physical, mental, and emotional rehabilitation.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.