WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities across 19 key indicators of livability, affordability, and “Veteran-friendliness,” looking at factors like the share of military skill-related jobs, Veteran income growth, and the availability of VA health facilities.
‘Not surprised,’ says local Veteran founder
“Honestly, I am not surprised that Raleigh was named as the number one city for Veterans,” Brandon Noel, founder of Data Droplets, told TechWire. “When you are in the military, you get used to there being a strong camaraderie amongst the people that you serve with. A city like Raleigh has gained the reputation within the community for being able to re-foster that sense of camaraderie that you end up missing once you get out.”
Noel, who was a military intelligence officer, founded his first startup in North Carolina in 2016. After growing it to 300 clients in the state and more than 1.7 million members, he exited and then founded Data Droplets in 2021.
“As a Veteran-run start-up, I had the opportunity to participate in Bunker Labs ‘Veteran in Residence’ in Raleigh, where they brought together a cohort of other Veteran-run start-ups,” said Noel. “During that program, I had the chance to meet regularly with Raleigh-based investors, one of which ended up investing over $100,000 in our company. If it weren’t for programs like that operating in Raleigh, we would never have had that opportunity, and our entrepreneurial dream might not have flourished as it has.”
Data Droplets is a service-disabled Veteran-owned small business, which Noel originally founded in Silicon Valley but then quickly relocated to Wilmington, NC. He told TechWire that he wanted to return to North Carolina partly because the entire state has made “significant investments” in supporting Veterans and attracting them to the state.
(Data Droplets offers a compliance technology platform, PitCrew, designed to help auto dealerships reduce their liability exposure after the Federal Trade Commission recently changed the classification of auto dealerships; Noel told TechWire that the company has raised $250,000 so far.)
Husband-and-wife veterans ‘specifically chose’ Raleigh
Chris Lehenbauer served as a US Air Force machinist on the fastest manned production aircraft ever built, the SR-71, along with its “much slower but very capable cousin,” the U-2, he told TechWire. He served four years and was honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant (E-5).
His wife, Barbara Lehenbauer, served in the US Army as a Russian language electronic warfare specialist in Germany and locations in the US. She served five years and was honorably discharged as a Sergeant (E-5).
Together, they run Phase Dock, a Raleigh-based, NC IDEA-backed startup—and they chose the city as their headquarters on purpose.
“We moved back to North Carolina and specifically chose Raleigh because of its entrepreneurial support system; high quality of life along with reasonable cost of living; and the incredible universities and research facilities in the Triangle,” Barbara Lehenbauer told TechWire over email. “All of these qualities make Raleigh the perfect place for Veterans to settle and flourish.”
A graduate of the RIoT Accelerator Program, Phase Dock tech supports electronics prototyping and project-building, with DIY kits for technical professionals, makers, hobbyists, and educators.
The startup is working hard to meet “enthusiastic demand” for its Introduction to Robotics course, which guides students through the process of building robotic arms, the two founders told TechWire.
“Last fall’s NC IDEA grant jump-started this development, and we are working hard to capitalize on the resulting momentum,” said Barbara Lehenbauer.
Raleigh is No. 1 on ‘Best & Worst Places for Veterans to Live’ list 2023
Raleigh is No. 1 on WalletHub’s “Best & Worst Places for Veterans to Live” list for 2023. The Oak City hit No. 1 in 2022 as well, making this the city’s second year at the top of the list. (In 2021, Raleigh was No. 4.)