A hero helping heroes
Former U.S. Marine, firefighter and founder of two successful startups uses the “warrior spirit” to help other heroes become entrepreneurs
By Ellen linnemann
As the founder of two successful startups, Zachary Green has grown his companies from the trunk of his car to gross close to $30 million and raise more than $4 million in venture funding – with products now used by more than 80,000 firefighters and carried by three of the nation’s largest retailers. He’s received the President of the United States’ “E” award for exporting and has been honored as Exporter of the Year by the Ohio Small Business Administration, Entrepreneur of the Year by Ohio Gov. John Kasich and selected by the Obama White House as one of 10 entrepreneurs to represent the U.S. at the Global Entrepreneur Summit. This past September he became an internationally best-selling author with the publication of Warrior Entrepreneur: Lessons From The Battlefield To The Boardroom – an inspiring book for business risk-takers which, just a week after its release, topped Amazon’s U.S. categories as the number one book for entrepreneurship and small business/entrepreneurship.
When it comes to starting and growing a successful business, Zachary Green (who moved to Hilton Head Island in early 2021 after vacationing on the island for the last few decades) knows exactly what it takes – and how harnessing the warrior mindset can be critical both in business and everyday life. And now he’s bringing his insight garnered from his decades of experience as a U.S. Marine, firefighter and serial entrepreneur to mentor other local heroes as the director of the Don Ryan Center for Innovation’s HEROES Program. This initiative was created to provide business support for the large population of active duty, reserve, National Guard, veterans and first responders (police, firefighters and EMT) in South Carolina to help them launch and grow businesses.
Green credits his “insatiable need to solve problems” for taking his leap toward launching his first business, MN8 LumAware/Foxfire, which introduced advanced photoluminescent technology to help firefighters reduce disorientation, improve building evacuation safety and save lives. His commitment to solving problems and his entrepreneurial spirit have grown through the years. Most recently he launched LumAware Safety Clear Guard, which he created during the pandemic to help keep employees, guests and students safe by utilizing domestically sourced plexiglass to create sneeze guards, face shields, partitions and more. Green led the company’s production of these barriers within 48 hours and helped secure $10 million in sales, including a partnership with Home Depot.
In looking back on some of the challenges he faced as an early entrepreneur and advice he now gives to other entrepreneurs and startups, Green stresses the importance that entrepreneurs understand “there is a big difference between cash and revenue, and it’s critical to find creative ways to bridge the cash-conversion cycle to avoid potentially selling yourself out of business.” In addition, entrepreneurs have to “get out of the way of the success of the company. Entrepreneurs don’t always make the best CEOs,” he said.
“I served as CEO of my company for seven years but pivoted to be able to take on more of a visionary role that enabled me to continue to develop new products and strategic relationships,” he said. “Moving away from a CEO role was critical because it allowed me to focus on different aspects of growing the business rather than the day-to-day operations.”
As director of the Don Ryan Center for Innovation’s HEROES Program in Bluffton, Green is working with about a dozen local heroes to help them start and grow their businesses, including veteran Roy Brown of OPFOB (www.opfob.org). Brown purchased a plot of land, complete with fishing ponds, cabins, rifle range/pistol range, sporting clays and a large barn for events for veterans struggling with PTSD so they can find mentorship and camaraderie with other veterans. Green and the Center are working with Brown to help grow the organization and increase opportunities for revenue. Green also has been working with Meghan Zalich, a Marine Corps veteran who just opened The Wooden Loft – a DIY business in Bluffton.
“Our program is a direct approach in helping our “HEROES” become active entrepreneurs and helping this largely under-served segment of the Beaufort County population by providing them with resources to help them launch and grow a business,” said Green, who has been its director since September. “There are so many success stories, and future success stories, of working with our heroes here in the Lowcountry, and I’m thrilled to be sharing my experience as an entrepreneur, and business lessons learned from a warrior mindset, with those who have given so much to our community.”
For more information about the Don Ryan Center for Innovation’s HEROES program, including ways to get involved, visit donryancenter.com/heroes or call 843-540-0405.
Green, whose best-selling book Warrior Entrepreneur: Lessons From The Battlefield To The Boardroom is available at warriorentrepreneurbook.com or on Amazon.com, offers these three pieces of advice for someone interested in starting a business:
1. Uniquely solve a problem. Focus on the problem you solve and not just your features and benefits. Customers don’t care about “your” features and benefits if it doesn’t solve “their” problem.
2. You have to have a competitive business advantage. “It’s OK to have an unfair business advantage – not an illegal or unethical advantage, but something that can set you apart and help you overcome other larger companies,” he said.
3. Make sure you have kick-ass sales marketing and distribution. “It doesn’t matter if you have the most amazing product or service if nobody knows about it,” he said. “It’s critical to have a great marketing and distribution plan in place before you launch.”