Veterans are those who have served in the American military and are now finished with their service. Many veterans want to find new employment after being discharged, including starting a small business. There are a number of programs designed to help veterans start small businesses that may use their skills and create jobs that grow the economy.
Many new businesses fail, but the ones that succeed have support from others with more experience and who have gone before them. It only makes sense to make use of the resources available to you and give yourself the best chance of success if you are a veteran who wants to start their own business.
Resources for Veterans
A good place to start when looking for resources about veterans and small business is the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Veterans Business Development. Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC) in a number of locations throughout the U.S. provide business training and development resources for veterans, those transitioning to civilian life, National Guard, and Military Reserve members, and military spouses.
Veterans can get help from 20 partner organizations with every part of the process of starting a small business. Business planning and concept assessment, feasibility analysis, mentorship and business development are all part of the services available to help get the business going with the best chance of success.
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The Office of Veterans Business Development also offers periodic grants for which veterans can apply to get help with startup costs or with expanding an existing business. Grants are also awarded to organizations that provide entrepreneurship training programs targeted to service-disabled businesses to enable them to overcome disabilities as they seek to become entrepreneurs.
The Street Shares Foundation offers a limited number of $10,000 grants over a three-month period to veterans whose business ideas are sound and benefit the veteran community in some way.
While some grants are not given directly to veteran entrepreneurs, the services they provide directly benefit veterans seeking entrepreneurship training and give them the skills they need to be successful when they do start businesses.
When grants are not available, low- or no-cost loans provided through the Small Business Administration Veterans Advantage Lending program can help provide startup funds that are sometimes needed to enable veterans to start the business that will provide their livelihood going forward.
Getting Started as a Veteran Entrepreneur
The first step to having a Veteran-owned business is to register in the VetBiz directory. This registration is typically necessary in order to qualify for grant and loans earmarked for veterans. The VA Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization website has steps for becoming registered in the VetBiz directory and verified as a veteran-owned business so that you have a chance for other resources and helps like grants and loans.
Once you register in the VetBiz directory, you will have access to a Veteran Entrepreneurial Portal with more resources and step-by-step guides for navigating different processes and programs.
If you are interested in becoming a franchisee, the International Franchise Association created Vet Fran, a special association just to help veterans with franchising. Many opportunities are available through VetFran that may not be direct grants but involve discounts and very favorable terms that are offered especially for veteran franchisees.
Finding Money For Startup Costs
While some businesses can be bootstrapped–that is, built up with very little startup costs with profits being reinvested into growing the business–most need startup capital in order to get going with office and/or retail space, supplies or initial manufacturing, and sufficient staff to handle the different aspects of the business.
There are a number of investment organizations seeking specifically to invest in veteran-owned businesses to help veterans get started as entrepreneurs. While investors are different from grants in that they expect to recoup their investment plus a return on their money, they can be a good way to get started when grants and loans don’t seem to be forthcoming.
–The Veterans Opportunity Fund invests up to $3 million to veterans with high-growth, east coast businesses in the fields of healthcare, technology, and business services. If your business is not already earning revenue, you may still be able to get funding if you can show a prototype product or service that can be evaluated.
–Hivers and Strivers is an angel investment firm focused on helping graduates of military academies like West Point with start-ups. $250,000 to $1 million per round is available, and the program offers ways to get hooked up with further investment funding if it’s needed.
—Angel.co lists 530 individual angel investors that are looking to invest in veteran-owned businesses along with their profiles and the number of investments they’ve made and followers they have.
–The Bunker-Startup Incubator gives veteran start-up technology entrepreneurs six months of free office space, networking opportunities, and access to investment capital along with mentorship during that time period.
Mentoring Help for Veteran Businesses
Several organizations offer free mentorship opportunities for veterans who are starting businesses, including some intensive programs in the form of “boot camps” that will help with the how-tos of every aspect of business development.
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans With Disabilities has three phases, with the third being 12 months of ongoing support from mentors in the program.
Patriot Boot Camp for tech startups owned by veterans is a free, three-day event that provides mentorship and resources as well as partnerships with established tech entrepreneurs.
Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship also has three phases, including an initial online training course, an in-person event, and ongoing mentorship and support activities. This program has a nominal $75 cost.
Veterans are some of the U.S.’s most skilled and experienced citizens, and they make excellent business owners because of their ability to work hard and persist through adverse circumstances. With the help of training programs, mentorship, grants, investment and low-interest loans, veterans can get the support they need to succeed even when they are disabled or recovering from traumatic deployments.
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