NewsCovering Colorado


Veteran-owned businesses credit SBDC for helping them succeed

Posted at 9:26 PM, Nov 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-11 23:27:34-05

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Rebecca Milner points out the features of the namesake Epoch model eyewear in a rotating display on the countertop of her Northgate headquarters. The reflective lenses are held by an upper frame with their lower edges exposed.

"Those are safety rated so they meet the impact testing for ANSI Z87.1," Milner explains.

That international safety rating means the glasses can be worn for a variety of applications. Stylish enough to wear to the beach, they're also safe enough to wear at the gun range.

"We do consider ourselves more of a safety, tactical line, but these are some of our favorites to wear every day," Milner says. "So, we still offer that variety."

Milner and her business partners started Epoch Eyewear in 2014 while she was still enlisted in the Army National Guard. When the other partners later left the business, Rebecca realized she needed help and found it at the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center.

"I went to them knowing nothing," she adds. "Like, I don't know the best way to talk to a bank, or even what banks to talk to, what types of loans and funding I can ask for."

Since starting the business from her home in Monument, it's grown to include a network of around 9,000 retailers across the US and even a few overseas locations. Most of the dealers are small businesses themselves. Milner said her glasses are particularly popular at golf pro-shops and shooting ranges.

They sell for between $20 and $30, and as a veteran-owned business, Milner said she always offers a 30 percent discount to veterans and first-responders.

She says the SBDC has been a tremendous help.

"Ron O'Herron, my veteran business consultant, was a huge resource, and then just getting involved in the community of veterans entrepreneurs was awesome as well."

The SBDC helps veterans become entrepreneurs through a variety of programs including free consulting services, help in applying for grants and loans, and professional training services.

Lawrence Wagner, CEO of Spark Mindset, needed help learning to use Quickbooks and setting up basic social media pages.

"I didn't know how to work on social media," Wagner explains."And so, I had a consultant in social media teach me some things to get our brand out there."

Wagner enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school in the late 1980s. He served in the First Gulf War, and after 8 years in the military, began a career in Information Technology. He had a comfortable life working as a defense contractor but felt like something was missing.

"I wanted to leave a legacy," Wagner says. "How do I help people who come from the same situations that I come from, make sure that they make it out, because we know the statistics of poverty."

He started Spark Mindset in December of 2017. The company contracts with public schools to teach students about careers in cyber-security. The student can also achieve the necessary professional certifications to find work in the field after graduation.

Wagner, who is African American, grew up in housing projects in Cleveland and found his own way out of poverty. His goal is to help at least 500,000 children from similar backgrounds to get started in life with the tools to succeed.

"The SBDC was the first group and first organization that put me in the right position to succeed," he says.

Spark Mindset also offers individualized camps for parents and students looking to enroll outside of school. Wagner discounts the tuition by up to 60 percent for families facing financial hardships.