n VETERANS A fter Kirk Hawkins returned from each combat mis- sion, the F-16 fighter jet pilot sat down in a room with military leaders and his team for the debrief. They reviewed and discussed what worked, what went wrong and how next time could be better. It was standard practice in the military and a practice that Hawkins, CEO of Vacaville-based ICON Aircraft, carried over into his own business. “Not many times in business would you spend an hour do- ing something and four hours talking about it,” says Hawkins, founder of the sports plane manufacturer. The sessions where he debriefs with his team after launching major projects are important because they offer “a completely non-emotional, performance-based evaluation.” It’s just one of the many lessons Hawkins says he took from his time in the U.S. Air Force. A native of rural South Carolina, Hawkins was the first in his family to finish high school and graduate college. He earned a master’s degree in engineer- ing from Stanford University and then spent eight years in the military before earning a master’s degree in management from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in 2005, eventu- ally launching ICON a year later. “I was surprised that a lot of what I had done and learned in the military was applicable or useful in the corporate world, 56 comstocksmag.com | November 2018 particularly from a leadership or management standpoint,” Hawkins says. Business ownership among veterans has grown in recent years, and California is home to the highest number of veteran- owned businesses in the country. Yet transposed against those numbers is not only a declining percentage of the overall share of veterans who own businesses, but a growing population of homeless veterans in Sacramento. The most recent report by the nonprofit Sacramento Steps Forward found a 50 percent increase in the number of homeless veterans in the last two years. Meanwhile, local employers struggle to fill skills gaps in the workforce that often veterans are capable of filling. WASTED TALENT Research shows that veterans are more likely to own their own business than nonveterans, and ownership has grown in re- cent years. Between 2007 to 2012, total veteran business own- ership rose from 2.4 million to 2.5 million firms nationwide — that’s from 8.9 to 9.1 percent of all U.S. businesses, according to the latest U.S. Census data available. The number climbs to 3.1 million veteran-owned businesses, or 11.3 percent, when co-owners are counted. While the data shows more veteran-owned businesses, the statistics tracking self-employment paint a different picture.