Aaron Serrano was driving in a combat convoy on the roads of Iraq when he had the idea for a loyalty rewards program that would connect veterans with military-friendly business owners.
Seven years later, the former U.S. Marine Corps logistics officer is launching Military Cost Cutters in Davenport's Hilltop Campus. The start-up company, which celebrated its opening Friday at 601 Brady St., offers an online platform that provides the military veteran with a mobile ID to use at companies offering military discounts as well as a system to help those companies retain and attract military customers.
"In the Quad-Cities, there are 200 stores that give a military discount. Those stores are our targets," Serrano, the company CEO, said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce.
With an estimated 8,000 veterans in the region, he said Military Cost Cutters "really gives the local business owners a chance to show their support and gain new customers."
The two-person operation, which includes Todd Morris as chief operating officer, uses software developed by Twin State Technical Services, Davenport, for Military Cost Cutters.
Companies that become members will be listed on the company's website and mobile app. They will receive a unique QR code to display at the cash register, which the veteran will scan in order to show a mobile ID on a smartphone. The ID indicates to the business that the customer is a verified veteran.
"We are reducing identity theft by not having veterans carry around their DD-214 military discharge paperwork (as proof of their identity)," Serrano said, adding that military personnel are twice as likely to have their IDs stolen than others.
Serrano, who received help from the Small Business Development Center, also got a boost from the Hilltop Campus Village. The business district and building owner Ted Priester, a local attorney, received a Main Street Business Innovation Grant to create the Studio Offices on the third floor of the Priester Building. The matching grant is helping Priester convert what was a large office built for and formerly occupied by Priester Construction Co. into office suites. The same floor houses Hilltop Campus Village's operations.
According to Priester, Military Cost Cutters is the first tenant in the Studio Offices, which continue to be "a work in progress." But he has commitments for about five of the eight suites.
The Office Suites concept "is an option that really speaks to a niche in the market. We were aiming at start-ups, not-for-profits and home-based businesses."
The suites surround a large common space, that Priester said the tenants could decide together how to use.
For more information, visit militarycostcutters.com and the iPhone App Store and Google Play to download the mobile app.