Celebrating Some of Ohio’s Entrepreneurial Veterans

This Veteran’s Day, we’re taking a look at the military-minded players in the Ohio startup scene

A business owner holding a tablet and wearing an American flag pin

From the Air Force presence in Dayton to Columbus’ Defense Supply Center, there are links to the military across Ohio, along with a rich history in aerospace and other related fields. But veterans’ contributions don’t stop when their careers do, and many return to Ohio to launch their next venture.

In recognition of this year’s Veteran’s Day, November 11, TechOhio wanted to take a moment to recognize some of the great organizations launched by veterans that are thriving here in the Buckeye State.

There are far too many great veteran-led companies to list here alone, so be sure to let us know what we’ve missed on our social media channels!

Battle Sight Technologies

Dayton startup Battle Site Technologies wasn’t just founded by a veteran, their very products are focused on improving conditions for veterans. Battle Sight creates technology used on the front lines, solutions for warfighters and others who need improved operations and communication.

“Communicating clearly is already tough. Now imagine you’re on a special forces mission in extreme conditions, it’s pitch black and radio communications are down,” said Nick Ripplinger, co-founder and president. “That makes it even harder. We developed our first product, the MARC, to work in the toughest of conditions. It’s a pen-like tool that enhances communications in no-light and low-light situations.”

Ripplinger is active in the veteran community, and in 2019 he won the Disabled American Veterans’ Arthur H. and Mary E. Wilson Award, recognizing superior performance as part of the nationwide Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Program.

Velontra

Perhaps one of the highest-aiming startups in all of Ohio, Velontra believes they’re working on the next generation of hypersonic engines, and could power space flight.

“Velontra is a veteran-owned startup focused on developing propulsion systems and airplanes with hypersonic capabilities,” said CEO and Co-founder Robert Keane. “Our technology has multiple applications, the most exciting of which is low Earth orbit access. Low Earth orbit, or LEO, is a very exciting new market. This is the area of earth’s orbit where you see SpaceX sending up the Starlink satellites by the thousands.”

Keane was a force recon marine who worked for GE’s aviation department after more than a decade in the military. Now, he’s working to make the next great aviation story in Ohio’s storied history.

Bunker Labs

Another organization that’s about more than just business, Bunker Labs is specifically working to educate and empower veterans working in the startup world. They launched in 2014 and expanded into Columbus in 2016, serving as a local hub of veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs.

“Surveys from the Small Business Administration say that about 25% of the people leaving the military have a desire to start and own their own business,” said Mike McNett, former executive director of Bunker Labs Columbus. “In the end, though, only between 4-6% actually do anything about it. There’s clearly a gap that needs to be addressed, and we have the network and resources to do that.”

The organization hosts The Transition, a podcast about veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs and small business owners, and gathers resources for those starting out.

HumanIT solutions

Often, technology developed at startups can be implemented to help branches of the military. Sometimes, the process goes the other way, as experts from the military launch companies that broaden the scope of tech. For Mark Human, president and CEO of HumanIT Solutions, the process went both directions.

After a career in the Air Force, Human moved to the private sector, working with giants Lockheed Martin and Booz Allen Hamilton before starting his own venture, a small business technology company focused on providing services and consulting support across the IT spectrum to government and commercial clients across the country.

Their work in the space was recently acknowledged through a contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services worth an estimated $21 million.

Bailout Systems

Based in Cincinnati, veteran-founded and owned Bailout Systems is working on technology that seems to be straight out of Batman’s toolbelt. The startup created a hands-free device that helps firefighters and others scale the outside of a building easier than ever before.

“I always tell people to think James Bond meets Batman,” Founder and CEO Michael Ragsdale said. “It’s a fall-safety device that you can literally fit in your pocket, which was always our goal. We originally designed it for the fire industry, and then people started telling us all the other areas where the product would be a great fit. Every time I pitch, people are telling me how they can use the technology.”

Ragsdale is a Navy veteran who launched his idea after a fellow Navy friend became a firefighter. One day, he told him the tragic story of Black Sunday, a day in New York City when three firefighters died on the job. He suggested that Ragsdale use his resources and background to create an impactful piece of technology, and the rest is history.

Mile Two

Mile Two is a Dayton startup that helps organizations navigate the challenges of researching, developing and implementing new technologies. The startup focuses on the intersection of people, technology and work, creating effective human-machine teams to address challenges.

“The world keeps growing technology and people are the glue that makes that go,” said Co-founder and President Jeff Graley. “Often, technology is tripped up by poor design, which leads to more work for people. So we help design and develop systems that are more balanced in a human-machine teaming way so that companies and people can take advantage of the most advanced technology without accepting a lot of risk.”

Graley spent 13 years with the Air Force, and remains active in working with veteran-owned companies, projects in institutions like the Air Force Research Lab and supporting veteran-oriented charities.

Airborne Outfitters

Another by-veterans-for-veterans startup in Ohio is Dayton’s Airborne Outfitters, which launched after Founder and CEO Jason Evatt moved from Washington, D.C. to Dayton after being given an assignment at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Now, the company develops products meant for warfighters. Their flagship product is The Bitterroot, an 18-liter dry bag meant for rugged environments.

A big boost in helping Airborne Outfitters start, survive and thrive was The Entrepreneurs’ Center in Dayton, which helped Evatt on the path to success.

“I’m a career military officer and didn’t know the first thing about running a business or starting a manufacturing company,” Evatt told the Dayton Business Journal. “I attended a boot camp a few years ago and they took me by the hand to help navigate the process. They also do a wonderful job of introducing you to the people already in industry that can help with your specific niche. Finally, the numbers don’t lie — 60% of businesses fail within the first three years. Without their assistance, I could have easily fell victim to said mortality rate.”

BRITE Energy

Since 2011, a veteran-led organization has been helping energy-oriented companies make for a cleaner future. BRITE Energy Innovators provide specialized mentoring, help connect companies to funding, work through business plans and more, all with the goal of a cleaner, more efficient world.

“From the Army to starting my own companies, it’s been all about helping others reach their dreams and change their little corner of the world. At BRITE, I get to do just that,” said President and CEO Rick Stockburger. “But not only do the technologies that are being created by our founders help change our little corner of the world through jobs and investment, they can change the entire globe by building technologies that make the world a better place. I believe that we are just borrowing this Earth from our children, and I hope to hand it off to them better than I found it.”

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