Chris Rawlings, 33 

President and Chief Executive of Veteran LED

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Ash Daniel

The lessons about adversity that Chris Rawlings learned as an aircraft mechanic in the U.S. Marine Corps helped make him the successful startup businessman he is today. Rawlings spent five years in the Marines with two deployments to Iraq.

"Going to a Third World country, I was privy to seeing what real struggle was like," he says. "[Today] something crazy happens at work — I can sit back and go, 'Is anybody bleeding out? Anybody dying? Starving or without drinking water?' No."

After Iraq, he worked for Northrop Grumman on aircraft and when the government went through budget cuts, he researched ways to save money within its infrastructure. He found that LED lighting provided the best bang for the buck. In April 2014, he started his own business to help cut utility costs and permanently reduce energy usage for commercial and industrial clients.
The company now supports clients with national portfolios, including projects in Missouri, North Carolina and Texas. In Richmond, he's worked with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and St. Benedict School in the Fan. His company's revenue has risen from $500,000 in 2016 to $2 million last year and Rawlings hopes to reach $4 million this year, he says.

He also donates to Tech for Troops, sponsors the BourBiz program which aids veteran-owned businesses and works as a mentor with Startup Virginia to help other would-be entrepreneurs navigate the business world. And he's looking to add more vets to his company for full-time work in the first quarter of 2019.

"I want to give back to people that have potential," he says. "To find diamonds in the rough, mentor them, veterans or not. I went from being broke, almost being evicted [to where I am in now]. My dream is to help people turn their life around."

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