RENO — It’s a modern, global story. A series of online contacts, coupled with entrepreneurial vision and a passion for helping military personal and veterans leaving a legacy larger than themselves, launches a global start-up crowdfunding platform exclusively for veterans.
Vivian Favors, a United States Navy Chief Petty Officer originally from Valdosta, Ga., who’s currently serving on the USS Reagan outside of Japan, was looking for a digital marketing team to help with the launch and maintenance of her new veteran-based crowdfunding platform, HelpFundAVet.com. After speaking with a consultant in Salt Lake City, Favors contacted Tanner Wideriksen, the founder of Apex Education LLC, a digital marketing engagement agency in Reno and the two developed a mutual partnership.
Meanwhile in New York City, Army combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient Elana Duffy, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, was building an online community resource providing reviews and recommendations for and by veterans, their families and friends.
And so began the odyssey of Help Fund A Veteran, an online crowdfunding platform specifically set up to assist military veterans in raising the capital necessary to start and sustain successful businesses, events and franchises. The site’s design allows users to share stories, personalize campaigns to fit the visual identity of the brands and grow campaigns through social networking, as well as providing donor and subscriber updates.
“HelpFundAVet.com is geared toward helping those veterans with dreams of opening and operating their own businesses,” said Favors. “Although they may have a great idea and established credit, some may lack startup capital needed to help turn their dreams into a reality. I saw that there was a need for this type of service and decided to do something about it.”
Wideriksen founded Apex Education in November 2013 to help struggling higher education retailers market to students while pursuing a degree in marketing from the University of Nevada, Reno. Within a year, Apex grew to represent more than a dozen institutions, providing social media marketing solutions to connect higher education organizations with their millennial audiences. Apex has since diversified its portfolio to include clients from technology startups, local businesses, retailers, semiprofessional sport teams and other professional and recreational services.
Wideriksen said as a provider of creative solutions, HFAVET will build an eagerly engaged community of supporters who will want to follow a veteran’s journey by providing monetary donations and moral support. The site will help fund existing businesses, start-ups, for-profits, non-profits, solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, charities and large organizations.
“It’s a modern business strategy to raise capital without giving up equity to angel investors or venture capitalists, or having to work with traditional lending institutions,” he said. “Veterans will have more opportunities and resources through an active community of supporters to help grow and sustain their businesses and non-profit-ventures.”
Duffy enlisted in the Army in 2003, with Operation Iraqi Freedom launching between the signing of her contract and the day she departed for Basic Training. She left her civil engineering position, acquired after graduating early with an Ivy league Masters of Engineering, to pursue a different life.
And after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, experience ranging from hostage rescue to diplomatic negotiations, and ultimately a medical retirement after 10 years of service in late 2012, Duffy said she returned to New York City with the intent to “dust off my degrees and get back to work.”
It wasn’t as easy as her retirement processors told her, she said.
Her military career behind her, Duffy said she was unable to explain the bulk of her service activities to prospective employers in the engineering trade. Struggling to find resources to fit her personality and experience, Duffy said she tried multiple organizations to find the right mix of veteran and civilian input to make her feel at home. When she finally found it, she shared it, good or bad, with others, to help others decide about mental health, navigating the VA, and networking opportunities.
“This information lived in my head, and in the heads of my peers in the veteran community, and there was no way for us to communicate it with each other,” she said. “We were losing lives every day, Veteran lives, my brothers and sisters, because we didn’t have a way to share information, sometimes even about life-saving services.”
Duffy and a small team of developers built www.pathfinder.vet, a site built to aggregate the peer reviews of support resources, networks, and organizations open to veterans and families, sacrificing evenings and weekends to build the site to launch on Veterans Day 2015. Through the site, anonymous reviews yield information valuable to both veterans, and organizations and donors.
Duffy submitted Pathfinder to Help Fund A Veteran to raise $10,000 to support her team of service-disabled veterans and their families, as well as to build the next, more robust iteration of the site.
“We are getting information and insight every day that can revolutionize the entire veteran transition experience,” she said. “Every review, every experience, every data point is immeasurably valuable to making communities better, for veterans and for everyone.”
Which is precisely what Favors intended when she launched Help Fund A Veteran.
“I would like for all veterans to know there is life after the military,” she said. “In life, we all need a helping hand regardless of whether we admit it or not. We stand with others to fulfill the military’s mission and believe the roles we play are for a greater cause.”