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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Marine Veteran Struggles To Start His Own Business

Matt Victoriano, a former Marine sniper, and founder of Intrepid Life Brewing. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)

Matt Victoriano, a former Marine sniper, and founder of Intrepid Life Brewing. (Alex Ashlock/Here & Now)

Matt Victoriano served two tours of duty as a Marine sniper team leader in Iraq.

Since he came home in 2004, he has battled post-traumatic stress disorder.

He has also struggled to find meaningful work.

We met Victoriano a year ago, when we were covering the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

He told us about his business plan to open a microbrewery. This brewery would also serve as an incubator for fellow veterans, to help them open their own businesses.

Today, Victoriano is getting ready to open a combination coffee shop-bar in Durham, North Carolina, called Intrepid Life Coffee & Spirit.

Although the microbrewery idea did not pan out for Victoriano, he did not let that deter him from becoming an entrepreneur.

“Part of my training as a Marine was to improvise, adapt and overcome, so I have been able to take the biggest part of my business plan — the social aspect — and carry that over to a new business plan that actually is about to start, hopefully,” Victoriano said.

Victoriano says getting a loan was the hardest part of getting his business off the ground, and part of the reason he was unable to pursue the microbrewery.

Victoriano thought that a loan from the Small Business Administration would be streamlined and easier for veterans, through the Patriot Express Loan.

“It’s extremely, extremely difficult to get financing,” Victoriano said. “I don’t know how many times people have asked, ‘Why don’t you use the V.A.’s small business loan?’ And I’m like, ‘They don’t have one.’”

When the micro-brewery fell through, Victoriano adapted.

“When I realized I wouldn’t be able to get the necessary funding, I looked at all my financial options,” Victoriano said. “It was a combination of having credit card access, having my wife’s parents give me a good portion of their retirement … and then the City of Durham actually had a competitive business grant, and fortunately, I won it.”





When we were in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2012 for the Democratic Convention, we went to a fundraiser for Team Red, White & Blue. That's an organization that helps returning troops adjust to civilian life through sports. We met a number of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who were getting started as young entrepreneurs. For instance, there was a Marine who had lost part of his arm in Iraq. He was working to improve prosthetics.

The guest of honor was "Daily Show" host, Jon Stewart, a big supporter of veterans.


JON STEWART: For me, it's just simple respect. I just feel like we all owe it to those that sacrifice so much for us to not forget about that, not just fighting the wars, but also then reintegrating everybody back into society. You just don't want to see them go through it alone.

YOUNG: The event was supposed to be a sort of networking barbecue for these young entrepreneurs. One of them was Matt Victoriano. He served in Iraq as a Marine sniper team leader. He told us about his business plan to open a microbrewery where he'd also train fellow vets to help them open their own business.


MATT VICTORIANO: Imagine getting a beer bottle in a store and on the label, not just with the logo, you find a - the face of a veteran and his short story in a paragraph and how he's contributing to society and making an impact.

YOUNG: What a great idea, we thought. And today, we want to check back in with Matt. He joins us from WUNC in Durham, North Carolina. Matt, nice to speak with you again.

VICTORIANO: You, too, thanks.

YOUNG: Well - but how's it going?

VICTORIANO: Well, it's been a roller coaster ride.

YOUNG: Mm-hmm. Did the brewery come to fruition?

VICTORIANO: No, but part of my training as a Marine was to improvise, adapt and overcome, so I've been able to take the biggest part of my business plan, the social aspect, and carry that over to a new business plan that actually is about to start, hopefully.


YOUNG: Well, we want to hear about that. But first, what happened with the brewery? I mean, probably, a lot of people listening to your story said, well, good luck because breweries are hard. But what happened? Did you not get the funding? What happened?

VICTORIANO: I think, my confidence in myself was the whole - more than what reality would allow for. It's extremely, extremely difficult to get financing. You know, it's really out of grasp for most people. So I just, you know, had to shift plans.

YOUNG: Did it surprise you that it was so hard for you to get financing? Here you were at this huge event. It seems as if the world was your oyster. So many people want to talk to you. Did you think that maybe because you were a returning vet, there actually might be a little bit of a leg up, that, maybe, it would be easier, you know, even because of that.

VICTORIANO: Yeah, that's what I had hoped for. Unfortunately that's a fallacy, you know. And I've found several things that are really extremely disappointing with not just the federal help for veterans when it comes to businesses, but, you know, local community help also. And one of the big - I think, it's almost a lie was the Small Businesses Administration's Patriot Express Loan, which touts how you're almost guaranteed a loan. You know, they'd backed up the 80 percent of it. You could, you know, get approval within 36 hours. But it actually turns out that you have to get approved through private banks and meet all of their criteria. And only then, at the very last of the application process, that there's one thing they're not too comfortable with. That's when they tap into the Small Business Administration loan.

And I don't know how many times people have asked, well, you know, why don't you use the VA's Small Business loan? I'm like, there isn't one.


YOUNG: So the Veterans Administration doesn't have any special programs for loans for veteran entrepreneurs?

VICTORIANO: No. And, you know, I went to try to find some vocational rehab, too, and the only program they have is if you're wounded, you know. And I'm not wounded, so I can't, you know, get vocational rehab either.

YOUNG: Well, you did mention in 2012 that you've been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Someone say that's a wound. You know, how has that impacted how you're feeling?

VICTORIANO: I mean, that's been the driving force in where my life has gone since getting back from Iraq. And, you know, I'd like to clarify that, really, it's not a disorder. And I think that's one thing that gets in the way of most veterans, getting help is that when you look at it through the lens of a disorder, then almost no one wants to deal with it because we view ourselves as not having a disorder. And it is really a lot more effective to say post-traumatic stress.

But the VA, they have a very detailed analysis in order for them to rate with you post-traumatic stress, and I didn't answer the questions right. So they said, you know, you got OCD and anxiety. I said a few expletives and I'm like, yeah, no joke.

But then, fortunately, I started to go see a marriage counselor with my wife. I think it's about the fifth time she said, you know, honey, if you don't do this, you know, our marriage isn't going to work out, so I gave in. I'm like, you know, fine. I don't have a problem, but I'll go if you go, too, and, you know, you work on your problems.

And, fortunately, there's a counselor that - she's worked with veterans getting back to World War II and some Holocaust survivors too. And she's gone across country, training other VA counselors. And since then, it's been a struggle. There've been been a lot of ups and downs. But I think because of that, it's really enabled me to progress in what I'm doing with my business and with my family. And I think without going, it would have been a downhill experience, and it wouldn't have ended up well.

YOUNG: Hmm. And - well, just to be clear, was she one who helped you accept the post-traumatic stress?

VICTORIANO: Yeah. I mean she - she said, you know, if you would just answer these questions, the same questions, I guess periodically, you know, she is required to ask veterans these same issues. And I answered them, and she goes, yeah, you've got post-traumatic stress.

YOUNG: So in other words, if you'd known how to answer the questions that the VA asked you honestly, you might have been able to qualify for a business loan. And as you were saying, you know, getting back to try and start a business, as you were saying, the loans that were available through the Small Business Administration, the Patriot Loans, you didn't qualify for those loans because you didn't meet the bank standards, which you had to meet before that loan. So it was tough to get money. But you've got something else going on. What are you doing?

VICTORIANO: Well, part of my idea was to have a bar. And when I realized that I wouldn't be able to get the necessary funding, you know, I looked at all of my financial options. You know, it was a combination of having credit card access, having my wife's parents give me a good portion of their retirement, which I - isn't a whole lot. It's like about $15,000 worth, which isn't a whole lot.

And then the city of Durham actually had a competitive business grant. And fortunately I won it, but I won't receive that funding until actually I open the bar. I'm having to do a lot of work by myself. But I've got the lease, the bathroom is framed, the bar is framed. We have to put up the duct work and then get a city rough-in inspection. Then we can throw up some dry wall and paint it, and then throw in some equipment and make some furniture, and then, you know, pass the health code, and then it should be ready to go.

YOUNG: Well, what are you going to call it?

VICTORIANO: Intrepid Life Coffee and Spirits.

YOUNG: I understand coffee shop by day, bar at night?


YOUNG: Well, here's what I'm thinking. We have a lot of people listening, and many of them have been schooled in the art of running coffee houses and bars. And I'm wondering maybe, you know, they could leave comments with advice for you.

VICTORIANO: Yeah. I could use all the advice I can get.

YOUNG: We'll have a little incubator for you at hereandnow.org. Best of luck to you.

VICTORIANO: Thank you. I appreciate it.

YOUNG: Again, if you have any advice as an entrepreneur who's been through what he's heading for, please send it to hereandnow.org. You just click on the comments section there and may start a conversation on Facebook as well. Let us hear from you, for him. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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  • Chris

    I would check out http://www.kickstarter.com/ for backing. This site has been a great source of backing for breweries in my city as well as other businesses.

  • MDC

    MarK, Don’t let anyone tell you it won’t work . Never, Never, Never give up.
    We have started 3 different businesses and sold them and grit and determination
    really does work and sounds like you have what it takes. GREAT IDEA BY THE WAY, COFFEE DURING DAY, BAR AT NIGHT!!! AND YES, family therapy helped us too. Keep up the great work and thank you for your service to our country and our world.

  • MarianaKrueger

    Matt, hang in there! I so appreciated your candor in today’s interview. It takes lots of strength to discuss your struggles openly. I just moved away from Durham after living there for 7 years, but I will encourage all my friends who are still there to go to your new coffee shop and bar! Durhamites love both coffee and beer, so I think you’re onto something good :) I’ll be wishing you well from Texas.

  • bryanphillips

    Mark, never give up and never surrender….adapt an over come….wish I was down there I would pitch in sweet, but if you need any help on the web side of things, hit me up…

  • PaulGrenier

    Re: coffee business. In college, I worked at an independent coffee shop. The best money-maker was iced coffee made with a toddy maker (like this: http://toddycafe.com/). We used the beans that would no longer make a fresh cup of hot coffee instead of throwing them out. Later, my dad learned how to incorporate the coffee concentrate into cheesecakes and I used it to make a glaze for ribs. Good luck, hopefully something I said can help you make quarters from nickels.

  • Alex Ashlock, Here and Now

    Thanks for the comments folks.

  • John C Baker

    crowdfunding !!! kickstarter.com , fundable.com ( probably best for you !), crowdfunder.com , idiegogo.com – do it right , tell your story & raise $100k + with NPR’s help ( hint hint NPR !!) , EVENTUALLY PURCHASE micro-brewing equip ( the super small batch kind – cost under 5k ) and do your deal ! Good Luck & if u do crowdfunding let me know I will invest / support ! signed lawyer / serial entrepreneur / restaurateur

  • Gerry Lamanski

    Matt, most of your fellow countrymen and women are behind you, because you are an advocate and was interviewed today we heard your story.–Banks let you down we wont. If I was that local bank chair I would have written you a personal check! But, We can all pitch in somehow to help even if it is just to spread the word.

    I am a commercial furniture maker( created pieces for our local brewery here in Tempe Az)–I will make you a piece and get it shipped gratis for your opening and carve your business name on it (maybe a cool entrance way piece -wooden bench?) Thank you for your Military service and speaking out on NPR. (I went to your site and gave you my contact information)

    • http://www.considergraphics.com/ consider graphics

      That’s awesome!

      • Gerry Lamanski

        Thank You!

  • Phil McNerney

    Hey Matt,

    I heard your story on the radio, and wanted to offer some advice.

    The company I work for, called Bev-Tech, Inc., sells and services gelato and espresso equipment in New England. We also distribute a large array of high end food and beverage products throughout the region. We are always starting new cafes and other small businesses in our specialized fields. Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have regarding the coffee, espresso or gelato industry. We have many connections throughout the US and the rest of the world that may be beneficial to you.

    Email: pmcnerney@bevtechonline.com

    Best of luck,


  • Bill Dickey


  • Doug

    I do hope that Matt will start a crowdsourcing/micro loan account if funding is still needed. I am willing to pitch in and make a loan if needed. Can NPR jump back in for us?

  • Esther Granville

    Matt, it was great to hear your story. Thanks for being so open about your challenges. I will definitely do everything that I can to support you!

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