Matthew Griffin had what anybody would consider a far fetched idea that didn’t draw a lot of support.
"Nobody was really going to lend us money to make flip flops in Afghanistan."
You read that right. He was in an army boot factory and had the idea for his company, Combat Flip Flops. He’s expanded shoes to scarves, jewelry and other products, helping in ways connected to his military service.
"Whether it was in Afghanistan, throughout the Middle East or Africa, every place that I saw that was running a good business, it didn't have crime. And I said, 'Well, if I want to protect U.S. service members - if I want to help these countries - what we need to do is support entrepreneurs so that way they'll grow their businesses. They'll watch their own corners. That way our service members don't have to go there and patrol.'"
He’s worked in businesses in Middle East countries, Syrian Refugee camps and elsewhere, improving their economies, then using profits to help girls go to school in Afghanistan.
Next Thursday, the Small Business Administration (SBA) will host Operation: Start up and Grow, an event aimed at helping guide veterans who seek to start their own businesses. The event features Jason Young, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and owner of Clark's Steakhouse in Schuylerville, as well as Barbara Carson, a U.S. Air Force Reserve Colonel and associate administrator of SBA Office of Veterans Business Development. Griffin will be the keynote speaker at the Start Up and Grow event Thursday. His top advice?
"I have three mentors that I look to for advice as I grow and then I also turn around and I try to mentor three veterans behind me. If you really take mentorship seriously, and when you face a problem, ask your mentor the solution to the problem, how to work through it and then follow back up, you'll find that your mentors are going to be really responsive and then want to contribute to your growth and to your success."
He says the military has been training entrepreneurs forever. Half of World War II vets started small businesses.
"It's a time for all the service members who have been serving for the last sixteen or seventeen years to take the skills that we've learned in leadership and accounting and logistics and international relations and apply those in our local communities as business leaders."
the March 16th Operation: Start Up and Grow conference is free. Registration runs through March 14th at sba.gov/operationstartup. Beyond the speaking presentation, attendees are invited to attend no-cost workshops covering topics such as business financing, marketing, human resources, and legal and government contracting. Experts from more than 50 different veteran and small business oriented organizations and agencies will be there to give veterans an opportunity to network.