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Veteran Entrepreneurs: Challenges and Opportunities on the Path to Small Business Ownership

By Kelli Brewer info@deploycare.org - Veterans have long been an entrepreneurial force in the U.S. But these days, the number of veteran-owned businesses is declining. Only 4.5 percent of post-9/11 military veterans have gone on to open a business, compared to 49.7 percent of WWII veterans and 40 percent of Korean War veterans.

This sharp decline in veteran business ownership isn’t for a lack of drive: 26 percent of veterans say they’re interested in starting a business of their own. However, veterans face significant obstacles in their quest to start a business, from knowledge gaps to financing challenges.

The following resources can help veterans overcome the greatest barriers to small business ownership. Smart Business Ideas for Veterans There’s no limit to the types of businesses veterans can start. However, some sectors have support available to assist veteran entrepreneurs.

Several franchises offer discounted franchise fees to veteran owners, including UPS, Meineke, and Togo’s. Becoming a franchise owner is a great choice for veterans who want the opportunity of business ownership but prefer a structured work environment.

Veterans can also use their military skills to become government contractors. However, veteran-owned businesses must go through a lengthy process before winning government contracts. You must prove to the VA that you’re a legitimate business by submitting the necessary paperwork, answering any follow-up questions, and then waiting for approval. Funding for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses Access to capital is a major obstacle for veterans who may lack the credit history and income required for traditional small business financing. However, veterans can still access financing thanks to these resources:

  • SBA Veterans Advantage: The Small Business Administration’s Veterans Advantage program eliminates upfront fees on loans up to $350,000 for veteran business owners.
  • StreetShares: While StreetShares funding isn’t exclusive to veterans, this veteran-run business offers competitive small business loans and financing to veteran entrepreneurs. StreetShares also runs a grant program for veteran business owners.
  • Hivers and Strivers: This angel investment group provides start-up funding to graduates of U.S. military academies.

While these are valuable programs, they don’t meet the needs of every veteran interested in starting a small business. Furthermore, it can be stressful when deciding whether to go with a loan, venture capital, or other type of business funding. The best way to secure the right outside funding option for your business is by doing your research. Depending on your financial situation, you might be better off with a term loan (short or traditional) if your business is well established. Or, you can apply for a line of credit if you require flexible working capital. Grants are ideal for startups that are mission-oriented. Training Opportunities for Veteran Entrepreneurs Veterans make great small business owners, but that doesn’t mean they can dive in head-first. Before starting a business, veterans need to learn the skills required to start and manage a company. These training programs support veterans in developing entrepreneurial skills:

  • Boots to Business: Service members interested in entrepreneurship can take the Boots to Business training program as part of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which helps active duty military prepare for a civilian career. The Boots to Business Reboot program extends training to all veterans.
  • Service Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program: This grant funds veteran entrepreneur training programs around the country, including Dog Tag Inc., Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, and others.
  • Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program: This grant program targets women veterans and spouses. Qualified veterans can receive training through Bunker Labs, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, or the San Antonio Lift Fund.
  • Veteran Fast Launch Initiative: This program, administered by SCORE, provides free software, online workshops, business mentoring, and financial advice for aspiring veteran entrepreneurs.
  • Veteran Institute for Procurement Training: This three-day certification teaches veteran entrepreneurs how to effectively compete for federal procurement contracts, for which veteran-owned businesses and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses receive preferential treatment.

Every entrepreneur faces challenges in their quest to start and scale a successful business. However, for veterans who have dedicated years to service, access to training and funding shouldn’t stand in the way. With a smart business idea and the right support, veterans can achieve their entrepreneurial goals and find fulfilling careers after military service.

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Kelli Brewer <info@deploycare.org

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