Startup co-founded by legislator aims to remember fallen veterans through collectors cards

Last updated on May 2nd, 2022 at 12:37 pm

Dale Kooyenga
Dale Kooyenga

For state Sen. Dale Kooyenga, Memorial Day has always been a solemn day of reflection. As a public official, and also as an Iraq War veteran, he has found himself helping at local Memorial Day parades, watching as children received candy and people celebrated the unofficial start to summer.

This led him to think that for younger generations, it’s not as common as it once was to know a veteran who was killed during U.S. military service.

“(Memorial Day) is my day of reflection to think of the sacrifice they made. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, most Americans don’t know someone personally who has made that sacrifice, which is very different than the American experience 30, 50, or 70 years ago,” Kooyenga said.

When thinking of ways he could bring these service members alive for younger generations to remember them, the idea behind Hero Cards Benefit Corp. was born. Kooyenga and Craig Du Mez, co-founder and chief marketing officer, officially launched the business in March.

The Hero Cards project involves two components: a physical collectors card with an image or likeness of a fallen veteran and some basic information about their life, as well as a permanent online tribute with a more detailed story.

“It’s a whole experience that starts with the card but pulls you into the larger story,” Kooyenga said.

So far, 39 veterans have received their own card. Through an annual membership, customers receive 12 new cards each month. Individual packs of cars are available for purchase as well.

“You look at the number of heroes that lost their lives from the Revolutionary War to present day…that’s a tall order and it’s not going to be completed in our lifetimes but we can do it one hero at a time,” Du Mez said.

Hero Cards is registered as a benefit corporation. Benefit corporations are for-profit companies that consider additional stakeholders on top of making a profit. In this case, Hero Cards provides a portion of every membership sold (currently $25) to various veterans’ organizations, including the Center for Veterans Issues, Heroes for Healthcare, LifeCampUSA, Next 18, Project Echelon, Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, Tunnel to Towers Foundation and Vet Tix.

“There’s a lot of veteran not-for-profits out there and I felt that I didn’t want to compete with existing missions out there,” Kooyenga said.

In addition to supporting various veterans’ organizations, Kooyenga hopes to eventually hire more veterans to work as artists and researchers. Hero Cards has committed to having more than 50% of its employees be current guardsmen, reservists, or veterans. The only official Hero Cards employee at this point in time is Du Mez, but several veteran artists have been commissioned for artwork.

Hero Cards has recently secured a $250,000 investment from an anonymous investor, which will help with the process of hiring additional employees.

Earlier this week Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, announced that he won’t seek re-election to his 5th District seat in the state Senate. Kooyenga served in the state Assembly from January 2011 to January 2019 and was elected to the state Senate in November of 2018.

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Ashley covers startups, technology and manufacturing for BizTimes. She was previously the managing editor of the News Graphic and Washington County Daily News. In past reporting roles, covering education at The Waukesha Freeman, she received several WNA awards. She is a UWM graduate. In her free time, Ashley enjoys watching independent films, tackling a new recipe in the kitchen and reading a good book.

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