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Coaching, capital helps now-retired Navy officer amplify thriving mobile entertainment venture

Every small business owner aims to make a profit. But not every entrepreneur gets to make a special occasion even more memorable. That’s what Rockin Game Party is all about.

Jeremy Howell started the company in April 2016 after hiring a mobile game theater for his son’s birthday. It was such a hit with the kids, and Howell liked the idea so much, that he bought a similar trailer from a retired Marine.

Then an active duty Navy officer himself, Howell soon had a popular concept on his hands. Based in Cedar Point near Swansboro, customers in the coastal region could choose from options like the hottest video games or all the gear for a contest of laser tag delivered to their door. As the business grew, Howell made a point of hiring active duty or retired service members and their spouses.

The success was welcome, but because Howell had started his business without structured financing he lacked the resources to expand at the pace of demand. In November 2017, another small business owner referred him to Carolina Small Business to explore the prospect of a loan.

Robert Rehder, a business services expert and Navy veteran, answered the call. Over breakfast, they discussed what it would take to enable the enterprise to scale. Rehder walked Howell through all the elements required for consideration by Carolina Small Business’ underwriters.

“We had a common bond,” Howell recalled. “The rest is history.”

Over the course of more than 20 hours of technical assistance, Rehder helped Howell to clarify his business plan, complete his personal financial statement, and define a profit and loss projection. He applied in January 2018.

The quality of the supporting documents added up to approval for a $250,000 loan. Thanks to Howell’s service, Carolina Small Business was able to offer him a lower fixed rate as part of its Veterans Entrepreneurial Program, which Rehder directs.

Now retired from the Navy, Howell said the loan funds enabled him to purchase equipment and broaden available services.

“We bought a new game trailer and a photo booth,” he said. “It allowed us to increase sales considerably.”

Also as a result of the loan, Howell currently has one full-time employee and five part-time employees with plans to hire more. He also referred two prospective clients to Carolina Small Business.

More recently Howell’s business was unfortunately among those hit hard by Hurricane Florence. He was eligible for three months of interest-free payments to help his business recover.

While about 10% of small firms in North Carolina are owned by veterans, 19% of Carolina Small Business’ loans are to veteran borrowers. Research shows that veteran-owned firms tend to be small in size, but have a large economic impact. Therefore, a growing need exists to ensure veterans have access to the financial and technical assistance resources they need to succeed.

Since 2010, Carolina Small Business has issued nearly $11 million in loans to more than 120 veteran-owned businesses. These veterans report that the loans helped them create or retain 228 full-time jobs.