Veteran Entrepreneur of the Year

Chris de Bono joined the Navy straight out of school.  Following his transition from the Australian Defence Force in 2006 at the age of 26, Chris undertook a number of Reserve postings. The postings spanned a number of years, including time at ADFA as a Divisional Officer, while Chris was working out exactly what his civilian life should look like.

Chris had an interest in the craft of fermenting, brewing and distilling. In recognition that the beer and whiskey market was saturated, he delved into brewing kombucha as a hobby, successfully marketing his products through Melbourne based farmers markets.  Victorian food safety requirements impacted his kombucha production, requiring Chris to make a decision to either commercialise or change his recipe. This carried the risk of negatively impacting his market. During this time Chris identified miso as providing the opportunity to produce and craft a unique product. Turning away from managing the issues that kombucha production presented, Chris embarked in a completely new direction - the production and supply of miso. He founded Meru Foods in 2017, establishing his new business in Tasmania to create and provide miso to the Australian and international restaurant market. In 2020 Chris formed Umami Pantry expanding his business to cater to the retail market.

Chris relied on his navy training and experiences during the founding of his business, showing resilience, strong problem solving skills and demonstrated dedication to succeed. Chris continues to expand his business range, deepening market penetration and increasing awareness of his products.

Chris’ insights for other veterans thinking about going into business

The decision to go into business for anyone, whether you're a veteran or not, is a really big decision to take. It's a lot of work.

"For any veteran thinking about business, it would be within their skillset and capabilities to definitely give it a go. I would certainly encourage people to think about it. It's quite a viable option outside of the fairly standard Defence contracting, Defence support type roles that people often go into.”

“The pitfalls and challenges of small business are many and varied. Probably one of the harder things for me has been understanding that not everyone else around me is going to work to the same high standard that I expect. People don't turn up on time, like I expect. These are the sorts of little things that just become ingrained in you while you're in Defence that the rest of the world doesn't always adhere to."

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