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Vetstarter aims to raise money for veteran businesses

Move over, Kickstarter. A new San Diego-based nonprofit crowdfunding platform called Vetstarter.org aims to get veteran-owned startups off the ground.

The first fundraising campaign on the site is for Santa Ana-based PatriotMove Inc., a one-stop, online relocation resource that serves the military community.

The company, founded by U.S. Marine Corps veteran Greg Call, has raised about 3 percent of its $50,000 year-end goal. Its plan is to raise enough capital to launch a national website later this summer.

Vetstarter.org is a unique crowdfunding platform because donations are tax deductable and 100 percent of the funds received go directly to the veteran.

Mike Anderson, board member and founder of Vetstarter, was inspired to launch the concept after teaching robotics to Wounded Warriors at Camp Pendleton.

A majority of the soldiers participating in the program were being medically retired from service and were interested in starting a small business, Anderson said.

“Running a business is particularly appealing to disabled veterans since many of their issues prevent them from working a traditional 9-to-5,” said Anderson.

Those ailments could be physical, such as limited mobility, or emotional, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"For some, starting their own business is the only chance they will have at employment after the military," Anderson said.

Once a service member is medically retired from service, they are essentially "unemployed" -- which means they are unable to receive traditional small business loans.

Some 80 percent of veteran-owned startups are self-funded, Call said.

"This was the single major roadblock preventing nearly all from trying to start their own business, and was also what motivated the creation of Vetstarter," said Anderson.

The organization is operated by an all-volunteer staff and completely funded by its founder’s disability pension.

Vets must have a mentor-approved business plan and funding goal prior launching a campaign. PatriotMove's mentor is Jim Butz, senior business consultant at TriTech Small Business Development Center in Irvine.

Vetstarter is teaming up with the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), which provides free business training to disabled veterans.

Vetstarter differs from other nonprofit crowdfunding sites, like HopeMob, because of its strong ties to the military community. Those key connections help disabled veterans trying to start a business.

There isn’t a dollar limit on the amount of money each company can raise, but all funding goals must be approved by the campaign’s mentor.

There also isn't a limit to how many campaigns Vetstarter could host at a time. Some business ideas in the works include restaurant franchising and designing custom service dog vests.

“In the near term we are focusing on campaigns with the greatest chance of success, such as Greg Call's PatriotMove,” said Anderson.

The company currently helps families relocating to Camp Pendleton, and services will eventually expand to Miramar, Naval Base San Diego, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Coronado and Twentynine Palms.

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