From combat in Iraq to construction stateside

JD Bravo founder James M. Davie (left) with Robert Gallant (center) and Robert Dettore. "A key foundation of this relationship is trust," Gallant said. Veteran-owned businesses have a higher success rate than those owned by non-vets.
JD Bravo founder James M. Davie (left) with Robert Gallant (center) and Robert Dettore. "A key foundation of this relationship is trust," Gallant said. Veteran-owned businesses have a higher success rate than those owned by non-vets. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 12, 2013

James M. Davie is president and CEO of a fledgling construction-management and general-contracting company.

But the titles don't matter to him on Veterans Day. Being a Marine does.

"I'd do it again if they'd let me," the 33-year-old Havertown resident and former corporal with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit said of enlisting.

Honorably discharged after sustaining serious injuries in an October 2004 insurgent attack in Fallujah, Davie will join other wounded warriors in a parade down Fifth Avenue in New York.

His battle scars from two deployments to Iraq - a now-healed traumatic brain injury and lingering post-traumatic stress disorder - won't be as obvious as the missing limbs of comrades marching with him. But in the business world, they matter just as much, qualifying Davie for set-asides and other competitive considerations for government and institutional contracts.

His service and sacrifice also mattered to two veterans of a different sort, from the construction front lines. Robert Dettore, 58, of Berwyn, and Robert Gallant, 56, of Spring City, were so moved by them that they began mentoring Davie two years ago to help him start his own construction business - in essence, helping him transition from Blue Force Tracking to blueprints.

"I saw a young guy that could make a commitment and be loyal, which is really critical in this business because there are good days and bad days," said Dettore, who has owned a company specializing in owner advocacy and construction management since 1990. "It's not for the faint of heart."

In other words, it's ideal for a 6-foot-4, 255-pound Marine.

Davie formed JD Bravo Co., based in Malvern, in November 2011, with Gallant, who had a long career in construction management, serving as director of operations, and Dettore as director of business development. With the company only recently turning a profit, both men went unpaid until October, evidence of their faith in Davie's entrepreneurial abilities, Gallant said.

"A key foundation of this relationship is trust," he said.

They have reason to be confident, said Jared Lyon, national program manager for the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities based at Syracuse University. Established in 2011, it offers all-expenses-paid training to 200 post-Sept. 11, 2001, veterans with service-connected injuries a year, the courses provided at eight university sites throughout the country.

Lyon cited a U.S. Small Business Administration study indicating that the five-year success rate of veteran-owned businesses is almost twice as high as businesses owned by nonveterans.

A Navy veteran and former small-business owner himself, Lyon, 31, offered his theories why the entrepreneurial track record for those with military-service backgrounds is so positive. Among them: the ability of veterans to function well out of their comfort zones, do more with less, stay focused on a mission, and cultivate teamwork.

"I really do believe that military service is entrepreneurial," he said.

After Davie left the military in December 2004, the former basketball forward for Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill and football strong safety for Fairfield University in Connecticut sought the physical and emotional help he needed and took classes in business management at Drexel University.

In 2007, Davie, a skilled carpenter, went to work as assistant public-works director for Haverford Township, where he oversaw redevelopment of the 200-acre former Haverford State Hospital site. On that job, he met Gallant, who had been hired as an owner's representative on the project.

Davie shared with Gallant his aspirations for owning his own construction business, inspired, in part, by the opportunities that would come from certification as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business and a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise. Gallant introduced him to Dettore, and with both men's help, Davie's dream of going into business for himself became reality.

Of $325,000 in initial capitalization, $100,000 came through the Small Business Administration's Patriot Express Program.

"Since veteran-owned businesses employ nearly six million employees nationwide, it only makes sense that the SBA is helping these vital companies succeed," said Mid-Atlantic regional administrator Natalia Olson-Urtecho.

And on Friday, the agency announced new measures to help get small-business loans into the hands of veterans by setting the borrower up-front fee to zero for all loans authorized under the SBA Express program, up to $350,000. The new initiative is set to begin Jan. 1 and will continue through the 2014 fiscal year.

Right now, JD Bravo has four full-time and three part-time employees, though it plans to hire as many veterans as the work warrants and the applicants allow.

So far, only Davie fits that bill - if not his old uniform.

"The only thing that still fits me from my uniform is the shoelaces," he said, and laughed.


BY THE NUMBERS

22 million

U.S. veteran population

3.6 million

Vets on disability compensation

4 million

Veteran-owned businesses


>Inquirer.com

Founder James Davie talks about his two tours of Iraq

with the Marines and, 10 years later, his construction company. Go to www.inquirer.com/business


dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466 @dmastrull

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