Collins White III

Collins White III

He's founder and CEO of Defenshield, which churns out body armor for U.S. troops. He started the East Syracuse (N.Y.) company in 2002, while pursuing an MBA at Syracue University. The 42-year-old's company boasted revenues of $4.6 million last year.

I spent 11 years as an avionics technician in the Air Force, where there was zero room for error. I was stationed all over—Idaho, Britain, Turkey—and I got out after the first Persian Gulf war. For a long time after I left, I didn't think I could find a job that seemed as important. That's what I like about working with Defenshield. We get letters from soldiers in Iraq saying, "Your product saved my life."

Sometimes my job feels like work, but for the most part, it's a lot of fun. Because I'm at an early stage of entrepreneurship, I get to wear every hat. It keeps me from getting bored. On some days, I'm a salesman; on others, I'm an HR manager. I can also be a product tester, which I love, because it means I get to shoot stuff.

Recently a lot of people have been asking me the same question: "We're going to get out of Iraq in the near future—is your business going to tank?" I cannot imagine that. Our tools are unique, 100% functional, and battle-tested by all four branches of the U.S. military. Until the root of all conflict is addressed, there will always be conflict. And as long as there's conflict, people will need us.

In the last six months, we have doubled the number of products we offer. We just added riot shields, we're getting into handheld shields, and we're developing a series of accessories for the Defenshield—ones that will make it easier to transport. We're starting to advertise overseas as well. This industry will be healthy for a long time.