From Service to Startup: Former Army Specialist Creates Path as CEO

From the SBA Office of Veterans Business Development 

In the United States, nearly one in 10 businesses – or approximately 2.5 million – are veteran-owned. These veteran-owned businesses contribute approximately 1.4 trillion dollars to the nation’s total sales/receipts per year, making them a critical pillar of the American economy. Our office works to empower these veteran entrepreneurs by providing the resources and access to opportunity required for business ownership. Since its inception in 2013, SBA’s Boots to Business program has served over 60,000 transitioning service members, veterans, and military spouses. From breweries and cleaning services to software consulting and IT sales, these Boots to Business graduates have successfully traded in their combat boots for briefcases.

Today, we’re highlighting the story of Lance Pastrana, former Army Specialist and current CEO of Bravo Cleaning Services, LLC. Together with his wife, Elsa, the couple provides both residential and commercial cleaning services for a variety of clientele along the SW coast of Florida.

Service-Minded: Beginning the Business Journey

As a graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy, Lance was groomed to attend West Point, but couldn’t ignore the entrepreneurial knack he received from his father, a local real estate developer. After getting some business experience under his belt, Lance enlisted in the Army at the age of 26.

“I grew up in a very business-oriented family,” said Lance. “My father was a huge real estate developer and really showed me the ropes of navigating through the business scene. I followed in his footsteps as a real estate developer before I decided to enlist – so I got my Army career started a little later than most.”

While he was overseas, Elsa jumpstarted their business ownership journey by launching her residential cleaning service back in Florida.

“Before I joined the military, my wife and I moved down to Lakewood Ranch on the Southwest coast of Florida” said Lance. “Florida is such a service-oriented area, it only made sense to start a business while I was overseas.”

As Lance transitioned out of the Army and weighed his options for civilian life, the business experience he garnered prior to enlistment reappeared at the forefront of his mind. He recognized the market opportunity and decided to take advantage of the plethora of resources available for transitioning service members. Lance completed the Boots to Business course in 2013 and began work on developing Bravo Cleaning Services LLC.

“Going through the Boots to Business program really brought me back to the reality of the real world. It’s what initially compelled me to take a chance that many others do not – and that’s business ownership,” said Lance. “Transitioning out of the military can be tough, and I truly believe Boots to Business helps service members grasp the idea of transitioning back into civilian life.”

From B2B to B2C: Expanding into Commercial Opportunity

It’s been seven years since the start of Bravo Cleaning Services LLC., and three years since Lance launched the commercial side of the home-based company. Fully operational with about twenty-three employees, the company serves a range of clients in multiple Florida cities: Venice, Sarasota, Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch, and Winter Haven to name a few. They provide all aspects of cleaning services from daily maintenance and janitorial responsibilities to post-construction clean-up and warehouse power-washing.

“A lot of the work we do is for people with national contracts,” said Lance. “We service any and everything from offices and medical facilities to bars and restaurants – including a lot of nationally recognized retail chains. I handle the commercial side of the business, while Elsa handles the residential side. Her clients have grown to know and trust her – and we continue to expand due to this word-of-mouth advantage.”

While some of the cleaning contracts are standalone, Lance also works with a handful of other contractors and subcontractors. Expanding the business into the commercial market required patience, realistic goals, and most importantly, consistent hard work.

“When it comes to subcontracting, it’s all about doing good work. Communication is the biggest thing,” said Lance. “It initially started with one contract. We did good work, and just started expanding from there. It’s important, though, to not bite off more than you can chew.”

As a long-term goal, Lance hopes to preserve his business through franchising, and hopes to provide transitioning service members with the opportunity to become franchise owners. He’s currently working with his local Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) to explore the resources available to help him achieve this goal.

“Starting your own business is definitely a process,” said Lance. “I want to take the lessons I’ve learned along the way and mentor future transitioning service members who want to pursue entrepreneurship. Creating a Bravo Cleaning Services franchise will ideally enable these veteran franchise owners to take on successful business ventures of their own.”

For more information on the Boots to Business programs, please visit Boots to Business or Boots to Business Reboot. Or reach out to your local Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) to learn more.

OSD CEO & Executive Director Glenn Banton is an appointed member of the Advisory Committee on Veteran Business Affairs (ACVBA) providing an independent source of advice and policy recommendations to the SBA administrator, SBA associate administrator for the Office of Veterans Business Development, Congress, the President and other U.S. policymakers on programs affecting veteran-owned small business from all segments of American society.