Mission: Veteran Entrepreneurship

Mission: Veteran Entrepreneurship

Featuring Mark L. Rockefeller + Mickey Konson of StreetShares

They say that the clothes make the man, and nowhere does that seem the case more so than for the men—and women—in uniform. More than just what they wear everyday during their time of service, those uniforms signify so many things that all tie into their identity: their devotion to their country, their belief in freedom, their courage, their willingness to sacrifice their own lives for the greater good, and a clear sense of belonging and camaraderie.

But what happens when they no longer put on those uniforms? For many, that change of clothes is a challenging time—not only as they try to forge a new identity for themselves, but also as they go out on the search for a job that still fills them with a sense of purpose and the feeling that they are making a real impact on the world around them. Knowing the very real struggle faced by the countless men and women separating from active duty service in the military each year because of his own experiences, Mark L. Rockefeller used his intelligence, dedication, and honor to create StreetShares with co-founder Mickey Konson, giving Veterans transitioning into civilian life a better chance to succeed at creating something for themselves.

“Veterans often struggle to transition because they face a lack of camaraderie and the need for a new purpose or ‘mission,’” says Rockefeller, who served nine years in the Air Force. Thought his family shares the same lineage as the famously wealthy Rockefellers, Mark’s own family legacy is not one of wealth, but of military service that can be traced back to the Revolutionary War. “My own transition was no different. My first step after separation was to use the Post 9/11 GI Bill to attend Columbia University for a graduate degree in law. This led to a job in the DC office of a premier global law firm, which ultimately brought me to Northern Virginia,” Rockefeller recalls. “The law firm provided very intellectually stimulating work and the chance to work with some very smart people. but I missed the camaraderie of the military and having a clear mission. I also wanted my work to have significant social impact on the world. My goal has always been to ‘Do Good. Do Well.’ In the military, I felt that I was ‘doing good’—the work was noble, and we helped people. But I didn’t ‘do well’ because the pay was modest. At the law firm, the reverse was true. The pay was good, so I was ‘doing well,’ but I didn’t feel that I was ‘doing good.’ I wasn’t having much social impact on the world. When I couldn’t find a job that allowed me to Do Good and Do Well, I decided to leave the law firm and build that job for myself.”

And thus began his new mission: StreetShares. Co-founded with former Capital One Senior Executive Konson in 2014, StreetShares was launched in Rockefeller’s basement. “I myself faced the challenge of finding employers who understood and ppreciated the value of military service. In many ways, StreetShares was an attempt to build for myself the job I always wanted—one that combined the camaraderie of the military, the desire to have a social impact, and the desire to create wealth. That’s the trifecta,” says Rockefeller. “I believe that entrepreneurship and business ownership is the key to upward mobility in America—especially for Veterans, women, immigrants, and minorities. Entrepreneurship creates personal independence, self-empowerment, and self-reliance; provides the ability to offer others employment; gives the capacity to help others; and offers a path to wealth creation,” he goes on.

“Military Veterans make particularly great entrepreneurs but are underserved when it comes to having the resources needed to start and grow a business, so we started StreetShares to get capital into the hands of entrepreneurs who need it.” - Mark L. Rockefeller

In doing so, Rockefeller—and StreetShares, by extension—has achieved remarkable things, clearly crushing their mission of doing both good and well. Employees—a great deal of whom are former military personnel—work at a fast-growing startup that has good compensation and also helps Veterans, and the company has provided over $200 million in funding to Veteran-owned small businesses. They have also created the largest private commitment to fund Veteran entrepreneurs in the history of the United States and invented a new type of public investment product that allows everyday Americans to invest in Veteran-owned businesses. Remarkably, more than 8,000 individuals have contibuted over $45 million in crowd-sourced funding to Veteran-owned businesses through StreetShares. In addition, they have created a foundation that educates and provides free grant funding to Veteran and military-spouse entrepreneurs. They will soon also extend those services women, immigrant, and minority entrepreneurs.

“We have two missions,” says Rockefeller. “We directly fund Veterans and military spouse entrepreneurs, and we provide our technology to banks and credit unions so that they, too, can make more small business loans to America’s mainstreet entrepreneurs. We started as a platform for Veteran-owned businesses, with the goal of providing funding to military Veteran entrepreneurs and military spouse entrepreneurs and then became a technology company that created software to help banks and credit unions make more loans to entrepreneurs. StreetShares now focuses on providing lending software and ‘lending-as-a-service’ to banks and credit unions. We want to bridge the gap between big-bank money and the working-class entrepreneurs who need it and provide the technology to small banks and credit unions to help them make more small business loans.”

Part of making those missions successful is, of course, forming strategic partnerships and gaining the proper support, and StreetShares has found a strong ally in DCUC, joining the organization as a non-credit union member. “DCUC has been very innovative and was one of the first credit union or bank associations to allow fintech members to join,” explains Rockefeller. “DCUC has endorsed the StreetShares technology and has been instrumental in our growth, donating to support our Foundation to assist more Veteran entrepreneurs.”

“I believe that the United States is a very special place, and—despite our imperfections—it is still the best place on Earth. We who are lucky enough to be born or immigrate here have a duty to serve others and ‘pay it forward.’” - Mark L. Rockefeller

Naturally, seeing the success of his own business has been fulfilling for Rockefeller. But the biggest sense of accomplishment he feels has come from fostering the growth and success of others: his brothers and sisters in the Veteran community and their spouses. And being part of that has changed him, giving him the sense of purpose that he once so desperately wanted to find. “I’ve found a continued sense of ‘mission,’ helping the community I care about the means to thrive, become self-reliant, and employ other Veterans,” he says. “I’m in a unique position. I can equally relate to Wall Street as well as junior military personnel, and I use those relationships to bridge gaps between the two worlds. I believe that the United States is a very special place, and—despite our imperfections—it is still the best place on Earth. We who are lucky enough to be born or immigrate here have a duty to serve others and ‘pay it forward.

In creating StreetShares and using all of his knowledge and resources to help others, to ease the difficulties of transitioning out of the military and finding a new purpose in life, Rockefeller has certainly paid it forward. And while he may no longer wear the uniform of a service member, he still wears his sense of duty, honor, and pride, giving his all to do good and do well.

For more information on StreetShares Veterans’ services, visit www.StreetSharesFoundation.org

Story by Liesel Schmidt + Photography by Catherine May Taylor

Sponsored by Defense Credit Union Council


How you can support Veteran Owned Businesses

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the U.S. Small Business Administration released a study titled, “Financing their Future: Veteran Entrepreneurs and Capital Access” which found that military veterans are struggling more than non-veterans to receive business funding from banks and financial institutions.

There is a real need for lenders who will work with this population. Defense Credit Unions already have the mission of serving the U.S. Armed Forces through the entire military life cycle to include veterans. However, current caps on member business lending hinder Defense Credit Unions. Nonetheless, there is a solution in the works that would allow credit unions to exempt Veteran member business loans from this cap.

Contact your representative today to show your support for veteran owned business by supporting H.R.2305 Veterans Business Lending Exemption.

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