When he retired from the military in 2013 and settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Gary Peterson began to explore several career options.
In 2012 he read an article about a local charity needing support to fix one of its aging vans. He took on the challenge and fixed that van, and sold another vehicle for $4,000. That led him to realize that he could help raise more money for local charities.
He launched One Community Auto to help local nonprofits raise money for their causes. Instead of sending donated vehicles to auction, he refurbishes and sells them at his retail location, dramatically raising the value of those vehicles so that everybody wins—donor, charity and the new car owner.
“After serving 23 years in the United States Air Force, I had the work ethic and dedication to run a small business, but I didn’t have the business background,” Peterson recalls. “I quickly realized that there were tons of resources to help me get up to speed.” He started attending SCORE workshops to do just that.
Peterson's mentorship experience "Helped validate my business idea and then provide strategic direction," he says.
One Community Auto was selected as one of 102 state winners in the 2017 American Small Business Championship. At the time, the organization worked with 11 local organizations to funnel sales revenue back into the community.
Peterson started with the Startup Basics Workshop to get a broad understanding of what was needed to run a small business. “I was also able to evaluate myself and if I could actually do it,” he says. As he launched, he attended several webinars on nonprofit business planning and connected with a mentor to work on marketing challenges.
Peterson worked with volunteer mentor Peter Mikelson, who helped validate his business idea and provided strategic direction.
Peterson has also attended SCORE’s previous Boots to Business program for veterans, and later graduated from the SBA’s Emerging Leaders program. “My learning continues,” he says.