Meet Kevin Knight, the 2014 SBA Small Business Person of the Year in Virginia. (Photo courtesy of Knight Solutions)

A serious eye injury during a routine training exercise forced Kevin Knight out of the Army before he was ever deployed overseas.

So he found another way — two ways, really — to keep standing behind the troops.

Knight started Knight Solutions, a construction and general contracting firm in Leesburg that handles renovations and grounds maintenance for many of the country’s national military cemeteries. His team ensures that those who lost their lives defending the nation have a suitable final resting place for families to visit.

But it isn’t just those soldiers who have fallen that Knight looks after. Knowing firsthand the challenges they often face when returning to civilian life, Knight hires as many veterans as possible, and he has built a military-style culture inside the company — one that smooths their transition out of the service.

“We have a standard, and we don’t oversell ourselves or bite off more than we can chew,” Knight said. “Our goal is to take the government money we’re awarded, deliver on our promise, and give back to our veterans in the process.”

His model is working. After winning his first contract at Quantico National Cemetery in 2009, the company has grown from a handful of employees five years ago to roughly 150 today. Knight Solutions has now worked on more than a dozen cemeteries, including local sites such as Arlington National Cemetery and Balls Bluff Cemetery in Leesburg.

It’s that commitment to veterans paired with his business success that earned Knight the Small Business Administration’s Person of the Year award this year for Virginia.

Knight credits some of his success to the education he received after leaving the army at both Norfolk State University and University of Cincinnati (he was the first in his family to graduate from college). In addition, he gleaned vital lessons about management and running a business while working for several larger companies, including General Motors, where he worked as a line supervisor after graduating from Cincinnati.

He later joined Rehau Automotive in Leesburg, which makes polymer parts for automakers, where he handled new business development and worked directly under the chief executive. It was there that he started exploring the idea of starting his own company and began researching some of the work available on national cemeteries.

“Some key people over at the Department of Veteran Affairs told me about the opportunities for small businesses,” Knight said. “That sparked it, seeing those needs and seeing an opportunity to hire veterans who were returning from action.”

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