AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Anthony Gantt moved to Austin in 2018 on military orders to serve as an ROTC instructor at the University of Texas at Austin, he learned firsthand the financial tolls military career moves can have on families.
With more than 21 years of service in the Marine Corps. under his belt, Gantt, his wife and their six children decided to rent a vacation home instead of staying in a hotel room while waiting for their house in Austin to close.
The Joint Travel Regulations reimburses military service members for extended stays in hotels and other approved lodging facilities through specific booking channels while on military business. However, Gantt wasn’t able to be reimbursed the $1,200 his vacation rental stay cost — despite the space, comfort and peace of mind it gave his family.
Gantt said a proverbial light bulb went off in his head and inspired him to create a business that offered alternative accommodations for military families facing relocations or temporary duty changes.
“I learned that certain booking channels were not permitted for official government travel, and since every location move is considered official government travel, I would not be reimbursed,” he said. “And that’s when I said, clearly there has to be a company that already does this. And I was like, I can’t believe no one’s doing this. How do I do this? Should I do this? I want to do it.”
The business model was the first of its kind on the market, and has since earned Gantt $100,000 in funding.
Gantt was named the winner of Austin FC’s Dream Starter program, an initiative designed to offer “Austinites from underrepresented groups to demonstrate ingenuity and compete” for $100,000.
“To give those [business] founders who are making a difference the opportunity to say, ‘hey, I just need a little bit of gas in the tank, and I’ll show you how far I can drive this vehicle,’ and then more people will be able to say, ‘hey, I was a part of that,'” Gantt said. “I think it just creates an ecosystem by helping grow our economy at large.”
Facing a competition pool of more than 80 businesses, Gantt was selected as one of five finalists and was later announced as the winner at Austin FC’s inaugural home game June 19.
“I was like, I was gonna be calm and cool and collected and just wave and say hi, but if you look at the videos?” Gantt said, laughing. “Then hearing all those fans cheering with none of the athletes on the field, they were cheering about another local person who was doing something like what I’m doing was amazing. It was surreal. Like you can’t even describe how it felt.”
At Ease offers military personnel the ability to choose the kind of property they wish to stay in — whether it’s an apartment, house, condominium or a hotel — the number of bedrooms and bathrooms available as well as the kinds of amenities offered both at the property and in surrounding neighborhoods.
Types of travel covered through the program includes permanent changes of station, temporary duty, leave and liberty changes, as well as any combination of all three.
“It’s all in mission readiness, and what I mean by that is everything that you can do to take away from the stresses that a service member has to endure, makes them more capable of being able to go forward and carry out their mission,” he said.
“[The government] takes care of, hey, we’ll come and help pay for the truck and the people who are packing you up,” Gantt added. “But everything else is on you as an individual, which is a great option because it gives us choices. But when you see that you can’t use the same resources and platforms that our civilian counterparts use, then those choices become limited to only those hotels.”
The $100,000 awarded to At Ease will go toward marketing and advertising initiatives for the business to help broaden its outreach to more military service members and their families, he said. At Ease will work to add a mobile rental application in addition to its website-based form, following feedback received from interested service members, Gantt added.
The details of Austin FC’s inaugural season have centered around supporting Austin businesses and artists, from the restaurants and vendors featured in Q2 Stadium to the musicians selected to perform at home games.
Gantt said the Dream Starter program embodies that same sentiment but elevates it to the next level by honing in on and supporting underrepresented groups to help improve their chances at entrepreneurial success.
“It was hyper-focused on helping founders or companies who have co-founders that represent underrepresented people — so people of color, LGBT, women founders,” he said. “So that was one of the awesome parts about being in a competition and seeing my peers who were all pitching that day, is we all came from a background to be where we are today, we’ve showed perseverance, we have sheer grit and determination to win.”
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