Celebrating Veteran-Owned Small Businesses

As a member of a proud military family, I was always taught to show respect and appreciation to our local veterans and their families for the selfless service and protection they have given our country. When given the opportunity to blog about one of our local alumni on this Veteran's Day, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to take time out of my daily routine to give thanks and highlight one small businesses owner from the Chicagoland area who is proud to represent his country and community.

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Robert Velazquez, an alumnus from our Chicago Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. Robert is a graduate of Chicago's Cohort 5 and President of Semper Fi Yard Services Inc.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

A: My name is Robert R. Velazquez and I am 31 years old. I was born in Aurora, Illinois and raised in Bristol, Illinois where I currently reside. After graduating from Aurora Central Catholic High School, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corp., where I served 6 years as an Artilleryman. We operated as an eight-man gun team firing the 155mm howitzer cannon. In 2006, I was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq for one year. Since my return, I own and operate Semper Fi Yard Services Inc.

Q: Tell us about your company.

A: Upon my return from Marine Corps training in 2004, I started to build my company. Semper Fi Yard Services was based on the values I learned while serving in the Corps: integrity, professionalism, precision and honor. We understand when working with any customer that we are a direct representation of the Marine Corps and take great pride in our work and impression.

We started as a professional landscape company, providing services ranging from designing, building, and maintaining commercial and residential landscapes. We are capable of providing pre- and post-construction services from installing slit fencing, dirt work, seed & sod, planting tree/shrubs/perennials, retaining walls, and permeable/conventional brick paver installation. Most recently we started a specialty division in Ecological Restoration.

Q: What does being a veteran-owned small business (VOSB) mean to you?

A: I am extremely proud to be a VOSB. I hope that the VOSB and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) program evolves and get more veteran businesses involved. We all deserve recognition for our sacrifices.

Q: What has being a part of the 10,000 Small Business program meant to you?

A: The 10KSB has helped Semper Fi Yard Services tremendously! At the time I was going through the program, my company had many great opportunities coming our way. So the program really helped me focus and create a plan so we could take advantage of those opportunities. And we did! Having a plan in place made growth smooth. When I look back and read that growth plan, it motivates me.

Q: What advice would you like to give to other veterans who own small businesses?

A: Get certified!!!! We need all Veterans to get their businesses certified on the local, state and federal levels. It doesn't come easy, but we need you. There are a lot of resources to get assistance. Call me! I'll help if I can. There are only about 120 registered VOSB and SDVOSB in Illinois (CMS). When local and state agencies consider a Veteran goal on a contract, they look at how many certified VOSB or SDVOSB are able to perform the work. But these goals are often not met because of the low number of certified VOSB and SDVOSB. We need YOU!

Q: Any other advice you'd like to share?

A: Be happy. Be thankful. Give back!

A special thank you on this Veteran's Day to Robert and all the 10,000 Small Business alumni and their families who have served in the military, today and every day.

The subject of this blog graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.

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