Air Force vet relaunches career as coffee entrepreneur
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A week after graduating from Olive Branch High School in 2003, Joanna Cash joined the Air National Guard and after several deployments, settled into a rewarding life as a military intelligence analyst.
She loved her career and she loved the military and she considered herself lucky to have discovered a job that she couldn’t wait to get to every day. And she planned to keep at it until she couldn’t do it anymore.
Cash just didn’t think she’d leave it so soon.
After a decade of service, Cash was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that led to a medical discharge and the end of her military career.
And a re-evaluation of what she would do for a living.
“I wasn’t ready to stop serving, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” said Cash, 28. “My brother had been in the Marines, but he had a difficult time transitioning back to civilian life and finding a job when his service was over and I saw how tough it could be for veterans to get good jobs. That’s when I went to a women’s entrepreneurship conference and decided to go into business for myself.”
Opening her own business reflects a defiant trend in Memphis and Shelby County. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of enterprises in the city and county declined by about 1,400. Nearly half of those businesses employed fewer than five people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
But newly minted entrepreneurs, many of them pushed out of the labor force by lay offs, kept opening shops or like Cash, creating an online business.
Attending free classes at the Center For Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Memphis, Cash decided to start her own coffee company, linking her product to her family’s heritage her late mother was American, her father is a native Colombian and Cash was born there and is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Reflecting her own service division as well as the other branches of the military, Cash named her startup An American Made Coffee Co. or AN AMC, an acronym for Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, she said.
Cash works with a roaster in Pennsylvania and offers two different coffee selections, which she sells online and to area companies and organizations. She also offers “Remember Everyone Deployed” T-shirts through her website and hopes to sell her products in retail outlets within the next year.
“I knew there are a lot of coffee companies, but I also knew that more and more people are drinking it all over the world and I thought my company would have a unique focus,” Cash said. “We’ve got great coffee, but it’s also for a great cause.”
Continuing her focus on service, Cash donates a portion of her company’s revenues to Alpha Omega Veterans Services, a Memphis nonprofit that assists disabled and homeless veterans. And the more she sells, the more people she’ll be able to help.
“I’d love to see AN AMC products in lots of local stores during the next five years and within 10 years I’d like to become a household name,” Cash said. “I’m passionate about our product and about helping people in need. I may not be active military anymore, but I can still be active in making a difference.”