SUPERIOR — A U.S. Marine Corps veteran has launched an online coffee company, with the profits going to benefit disaster relief, first responders, and U.S. veterans and troops overseas, including those providing relief and other assistance in Ukraine.
Richard Turner, who spent 15 years as an attack-helicopter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, founded Bulwark Coffee Co. in 2021. He had intended to officially launch operations Sept. 11, 2022, with a soft launch on Memorial Day.
But that timetable was brought forward because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the company officially launching April 1.
“With the Ukraine issue happening right now, with the Russian invasion, I personally have a lot of special-operations buddies of mine who I served with in the latter part of my career … they’re currently over there right now doing first aid and doing hostage-rescue operations,” Turner said.
“We went into full scramble mode,” he said of the early launch.
Bulwark supports a team of about five U.S. veterans in Ukraine, while also donating through several nongovernmental organizations, such as the Ukraine NGO Coordination Network and Save Our Allies.
Bulwark Coffee Co. is an ecommerce company operating as a direct-to-consumer, subscription-based coffee retailer.
“We are a digital native company,” Turner said. “We have no brick-and mortar stores, and we don’t even roast our own coffee.”
The company contracts with other coffee roasters — including Wander Coffee in Fort Collins and Corvus Coffee Roasters in Denver.
Turner recently completed his MBA through the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business. He said he was looking for a way to support first responders and veterans.
“I’ve always had this passion of starting a company of my own that could give back, a philanthropic company,” he said.
He said there’s a tendency to “take first responders for granted, and our veterans as well, but there’s not very many channels whereby you can support your first responders. A lot of companies will give 1% or half of one percent to a charitable cause, but there wasn’t a philanthropic organization as a whole that was operating as a for-profit. So that was sort of the inspiration for me to start something, to see if it was actually possible.”
Turner drew inspiration from Newman’s Own, founded by actor Paul Newman, which donates 100% of profits to charitable causes, operating through the Newman’s Own Foundation.
Turner has adopted a similar structure, with Bulwark Coffee Co. donating profits to the newly formed Bulwark Foundation. The foundation focuses on supporting:
- Law enforcement.
- Fire and emergency medical services.
- Military veterans.
- Disaster relief.
Donations can fund mental-health resources, equipment, equine therapy, scholarships and more. Buyers can subscribe or make one-time purchases, designating what beneficiary they want to support. Direct donations to the foundation are also accepted.
The Bulwark Foundation recently announced a campaign to raise $5 million to support veteran operators delivering aid to trapped Ukrainians.
“Ukrainians are in desperate need, and we have the skillset to address many of their needs, but we’re lacking resources,” Turner said in announcing the campaign. “We need money to buy supplies in Poland. We’ve delivered everything we could buy ourselves,” voiced one veteran who has been assisting Ukrainians since Russia’s invasion.
Bulwark derives its name from what Turner described as “a community of defense or encouragement in a time of need.”
“Our goal was to strengthen the community, not only on the consumer side, but also afford, on the production side, opportunities for them to show their support for first responders and veterans and their families,” he said.
He added that Wander and Corvus are providing “an incredible discount, because that’s their way of giving back as well.”
Turner projects that Bulwark will generate $185,000 in revenue in 2022, climbing to $1.3 million in 2023. The company will retain about 5% of revenue for working capital, donating the bulk of the margin — about 30% of revenue — to the foundation, which in turn will support the designated causes.
Costs are kept low because of automation, including fulfillment and inventory management.
Thus far, Turner said he has about $10,000 of his own funds invested in the venture, with reserves of “about 10 times that.”
The company consists of Turner and “one other special-operations veteran,” he said.