Austin Thompson graduated from high school in 1995, joined the army, and became an M1A1 Abrams Systems Mechanic. Which he says “is just a really fancy name for tank mechanic.” After basic training in Fort Knox in Kentucky, he got married just before being stationed in Korea for a year away from his family and wife. He sustained a back injury during a training accident in Korea, and was sent to Fort Raleigh in Kansas, where he got medically discharged.
That’s been over 20 years ago. And now, after a divorce, and having no college degree, Austin runs a successful and growing social media and marketing business called Thompson Industries. And within the past year, Austin started a second small business called Random Pieces of Wood which produces laser engraved gifts. He’s an entrepreneur, a dad, an a veteran.
But Austin did not always have such success. After his discharge, Austin spent his time moving from job to job, from selling cars to managing a Pizza Hut. He knew there were veterans programs out there, but he didn’t know where to start or who to talk to. And he didn’t receive disability assistance from the V.A. until he was almost 40. Although Austin experienced some setbacks because of lack of information, he is still grateful for the time that he spent working toward his current achievements.
“I look back fondly on all of the things I did because they got me to where I am. I learned how to do business well by working in other industries and being under business owners.”
Starting in September, Austin will be launching a Meetup at theCO called “Vets in Business,” to support and educate local veterans about opportunities for personal or entrepreneurial assistance.
As someone who experienced the struggle of post-military life, Austin strives to be a resource for veterans in a similar situation.
“I want to be able to take a pool of people and discuss the things we have all learned collectively, because there are other veterans out there that don’t know anything and I could at least help them there,” Austin said. “We can work from the ground up, and learn from each other.”
Austin says he has known many people who jump into a job they are not happy or comfortable with simply because they think they don’t have options. He’s known people who feel less valuable if they skipped college to join the military, like Austin, and are now without a degree. He is proof that veterans can build their own businesses and be successful without college degrees. It just requires having access to the right information.
Since veteran-oriented websites are often hard to navigate, Austin hopes he will be able to share some insight and direct veterans to programs that can have both individual and business benefit; for example, how to get a V.A. loan, or receive disability.
“It’s cool when you are a veteran to be able to support other veterans. I want to build communication between people who don’t always feel like they have people who know what they are going through,” Austin says. “I don’t want the next veteran who gets out to wait 20 years to make a decision to do something that benefits them and their family.”
Whether veterans are being coached through their start-ups and business ideas, or simply sharing stories from their past, Austin says veterans are welcome and encouraged to help grow the sense of community that he is seeking to build.
“Everyone has a story that ties them back to basic training, or the first place they were stationed. It’s something that resonates with a group of veterans. We are instilled with camaraderie.”