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Vietnam combat veteran John Shepard had already co-founded two breakthrough-technology companies – involving network firewalls and fingerprint readers – when he went looking for a line of credit for his most recent company, Veterans Assembled Electronics.
The military market is a relatively small one for banks in the Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut region, compared to broader segments, where banks focus on luring consumers with a palette of new services and also on generating more commercial business.
But the military-banking clientele is a growing one, according to data from the Small Business Administration in Rhode Island, which offers a variety of financial assistance to veterans, including federally guaranteed Patriot Express loans.
Combined figures for 2009 and 2010 add up to $10.6 million in all SBA loans to veterans in Rhode Island, said Normand Deragon, economic-development specialist and veteran-business-development officer for the SBA in the Ocean State.
Combined figures for 2011 and 2012 add up to $20 million in SBA loans to Rhode Island veterans, said Deragon.
“I was a little surprised. And I think it’s about time,” Deragon said of the dramatic increase in SBA loans to veterans for existing and startup businesses.
A Department of Defense contractor, Shepard already had an office in the Cape Canaveral area in Florida as part of the company’s training and placement program for veterans. He had been working from his home in North Kingstown since the 2009 start-up of his small electronics-systems design and manufacturing company. A year ago, he was ready to establish the business in Newport.
“The business started growing a bit, our revenue started growing a bit and we were getting closer to getting a new contract. We had four employees and were getting ready to go to six,” said Shepard. “I went to one bank where I had an account and they just weren’t interested in helping with a line of credit,” he said. “I went to a financial adviser who suggested Webster Bank because they were forward-thinking and worked well with veterans and startups.”
Shepard already had an account at Webster and called the bank.