Establishing a pathway for veterans toward employment and entrepreneurship

Each year, more than 200,000 U.S. service members return to civilian life, including 10 percent with a desire to own a business. Through the Veteran Entrepreneur Lending Program, Bank of America deployed $20 million to connect veteran business owners with affordable capital to help kick-start and grow their businesses. Loans will be administered through community development financial institutions (CDFIs) – nonprofit institutions with expertise in lending to small businesses and an understanding of local circumstances including economic development and job creation opportunities. In addition to deploying capital, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation provided $1.3 million in grants over two years to help CDFIs and learning providers manage operating costs.

Bank of America is the largest investor in CDFIs with $1.6 billion to more than 260 CDFIs across all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to finance affordable housing, small businesses, child-care centers, health-care clinics and other economic development programs.

Patriotic Pig

Owners: Marc and Gina Smith
Dallas, Texas
Marc and his wife, Gina, own and operate a BBQ catering company located in Dallas, with a mission to source local food and give back to the veteran community. The Smiths used working capital from a loan through Texas-based People Fund to buy a large military-themed smoker, enabling them to serve about 1,000 customers each weekend – a four-fold increase in customers prior to the purchase. With the help of 10 employees, the Smiths’ catering business accommodates up to five barn- and rustic-style weddings per day, with plans to grow in the future. Marc and Gina are active in the veteran community, hosting fundraisers and working with fellow veteran business owners.

“We started the business in 2016, and to see it continually grow since then has been incredibly rewarding,” said Smith. “Being able to get a loan was a game-changer and an important factor in our ability to grow our business. We’re thankful and plan to pay it forward by using the smoker on Veteran’s Day, and feed local veterans.”

Tertulia Coffee

Owners: Tim and Maria Sanchez
Oakland, California
Tim Sanchez, a decorated Navy veteran, formed his love for coffee during his time as a tech startup cofounder in 1999. “I told my wife that when I grew up I wanted to open a high-end cafe featuring really great coffee,” remembers Tim. After his most recent deployment in Afghanistan, Tim decided it was time to shake things up and pursue his passion. An Oakland native – he grew up in East Oakland – Tim and his wife, Maria, knew that Oakland was where they wanted to open their business when the opportunity arose. In 2016, Tertulia Coffee opened as the perfect combination of both Tim’s passion for coffee and Maria’s passion for art: a coffee bar and art gallery.

Tim and Maria had shopped around for working capital for Tertulia Coffee before working with Veteran Launch, which helped them sustain the first few months of being in business. “What was great at Veteran Launch was they didn’t act like a bank. It was a transparent relationship, and we worked together to get the loan package together so we could get funded as soon as possible. I wasn’t treated like just another customer, which made it a better experience,” explains Tim. Today, Tertulia Coffee has 15 employees and continues to celebrate Tim and Maria’s combined passions.

Commercial Sanitation Initiative US Military Maintenance LLC

Co-owners: Marcus A. Flakes Sr. (CEO) and Kelcie Wilson (VP of Operations)
Houston, Texas
After a successful 22-year military career and a successful business in Oregon, Marcus A. Flakes Sr. sought out a new dream in the Lone Star State. With a Master in Public Health and keen interest in sanitation, Marcus founded Commercial Sanitation Initiative (CSI) US Military Maintenance in 2017 as an independent general contracting firm serving South Houston, Spring and the Sugarland areas of Texas.

A loan from PeopleFund enabled Marcus to refinance his existing debt and provided working capital for rebuilding his business after Hurricane Harvey. Passionate about his veteran community, Marcus founded his company with a mission to create effective stability and workforce development programs for veterans and their families. CSI US Military Maintenance provides sanitation, maintenance and remodeling services to the residential and commercial sectors. As a national distributor, CSI recruits and trains veteran entrepreneurs as affiliates of its products, including Anolyte – a powerful disinfectant that is 100% biodegradable, is nonflammable, has the lowest toxicity on the planet and is harmless to humans, animals and plants. After Hurricane Harvey, the organization was deeply affected, and several employees were unable to make it to work for a prolonged period of time; a loan from PeopleFund allowed Marcus to hire additional employees to take over the workload, as well as to work new contracts. They also used the funds to purchase inventory for the retail portion of the business, online sales of power washing machines, for advertising for their company vehicles and for refinancing existing debt initially used to hire employees for larger jobs.

CSI is also a Verified Retail Rangeme Vendor and a credentialed Healthcare Vendor across the nation. The company has grown from cleaning and construction to the distribution of products nationwide to business owners and retailers to help improve environmental health.

Carthens Law Firm

Owner: Zshakira Carthens Smith
Fayetteville, North Carolina

Zshakira Carthens is the sole proprietor of Carthens Law Firm, located in Fayetteville, NC. Inspired by her family, Zshakira decided to open Carthens Law Firm in order to make an impact on people’s lives. Her law firm represents clients in the areas of family law and personal injury, including divorce, child custody, child support, property division, alimony and adoptions.

Before opening her business, Carthens knew that she enjoyed spending time with other attorneys and learning from their experiences. Between serving in the military, going to law school and building her career, Carthens knew deep down that entrepreneurship was made for her.

“I enjoyed my time spent working with other attorneys and learning from more experienced attorneys in a small firm environment.  Despite the advantages to working with other attorneys, I quickly learned that the advantages of starting my own firm and becoming a solo practitioner far outweighed the perks of working for others,” said Carthens.

After working for a small firm and realizing the limitations, she decided it was time to open her own law firm, which focused on areas that she was passionate about. “I have also always had the heart and mind of an entrepreneur. I have always been interested in building something, creating systems and having the ability to do my own thing,” said Carthens.

To expand her business, Carthens needed working capital to support staff. Therefore, Carthens applied for a loan with CSBDF at a reduced interest provided by the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program, powered by Bank of America.

Within the next five years, Carthens plans to continue working towards her definition of success and expand her business by hiring more staff. She hopes to reach a point where her business runs smoothly in her absence, allowing her to maintain a good work/life balance and take some long vacations. 

Carthens believes business success derives from pursuing passions and achieving financial goals, but that “a profitable business, without a sense of peace, joy and meaningful relationships with God, friends and my family would mean nothing.”


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