If you are a veteran looking to leverage the leadership and discipline you learned in the service to create an outstanding business of your own, you’re not alone. There are more than 3 million veteran-owned businesses in the U.S., and 30% of all American business owners are veterans. It seems that the formula of armed service plus entrepreneurship is a winning one, and it’s no surprise that many men and women return to civilian life to start innovative and thriving new businesses.
Unfortunately, some vets from the “post-9/11 era” face more funding obstacles, due to the crash in the U.S. lending system. While many WWII vets returned from service to a banking system ready to lend money, more recent veterans tend to face much more stringent constraints and requirements.
The good news is that there are several organizations now filling the gap, and veterans actually can easily access a wide range of resources, from basic training to funding support. For example:
Boots to Business is a two-part program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as a training track within the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP). The program begins with a two-day, in-person workshop, followed by an eight-week, instructor-led online course. These courses cover elements of a business plan, best practices for starting a business, and how to access resources and startup funds. In addition, veterans will learn about how to access favorable business loans (in 2014, the SBA supported more than $766 million to more than 23000 veteran-owned small businesses).
Street Shares is a one-stop shop for qualifying for up to $100,000 for a small business loan. The site allows you to instantly see if you qualify and share your business pitch, and then facilitates investors who compete in an auction to fund your business. A veteran-owned business itself, Street Shares hopes to help as many veterans as possible and “reignite the tradition of veteran entrepreneurship.” The site also features additional resources and success stories.
If you are located on the East Coast, you might consider The Veterans’ Opportunity Fund, a multi-stage venture capital fund that invests up to $3 million in high-growth, veteran-owned companies. The fund’s organizers explain they saw a lack of opportunities for veteran-owned business, and began the fund believing that veteran-owned business are especially attractive to investors because of veterans’ work ethic and commitment to excellence. So far, the fund has made nine investments in a diversified portfolio of high-growth companies.
If you are looking to establish a non-profit organization, a Veterans Affairs (VA) Small Business Grant might be ideal for you. Government-issued grants are not issued to for-profit, commercial small business owners – including veterans – but are commonly reserved for people who wish to establish a specific type of nonprofit organization. For example, VA Homeless Grants are available to people wanting to establish housing for homeless veterans. Government-issued grants do not have to be repaid, but can require stringent compliance.
- Register at vetbiz.gov to be verified and added to the VA’s Veterans First Contracting Program.
- Read up on how to do business with the Department of Defense (DOD) as a contractor; your service background is a definite plus.
- Dig into tons of free resources at the U.S. Small Business Administration website, from crafting a business plan, to hiring employees, to paying taxes.
- Consider franchise opportunities. Many franchise businesses offer substantial financial incentives to vets. Sites like Vetfran house a directory with more than 600 franchise opportunities.
- Check out NerdWallet’s compilation of best potential loans for veterans.
- Get a mentor. If you don’t already have one in mind, visit Score.org, a nonprofit that houses the nation’s largest, network of free, expert business mentors. You can connect with a mentor online or at one of their 300 locations nationwide.
Always proceed with caution when examining loans, and carefully review terms and conditions. Keep in mind that applying for multiple loans at the same time can damage your credit score.
Written by Megan Hammons