Small Business Resources for Active-Duty Service Members and Veteran Entrepreneurs
Active-duty service members and veterans are well-suited for entrepreneurship. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) reports that about one in ten veterans owns their own business. Further, veterans are 45% more likely to be self-employed than civilians.
Business IdeasBefore anything else, you need to know what kind of business you want to start. You can open any kind of business you want, but as a vet, you may do especially well in one of the following areas:
- Adventure Guide: If you worked outdoors during your time in the service or have an outdoor hobby that you’re passionate about, you can work as an adventure guide in your area. Depending on where you live, you can take people hunting, fishing, hiking, kayaking, rock climbing — whatever suits your interests. When you aren’t out in the wild, you can even run your business from home.
- Digital Marketing: Digital marketing is a booming industry and, with a modern marketing education, you can take advantage of this growth. From affiliate marketing to search engine optimization and everything in between, there are countless ways to get involved in digital marketing. There is a lot of flexibility and freedom in this area, as you can find work as a freelancer or create an entire business dedicated to digital marketing.
- Franchise Owner: Open a franchise in your area. You may have to make a large initial investment or pay franchise fees, but you don’t have to come up with and develop a completely new business. Further, some companies prioritize veteran franchisees, offering discounts to make franchise ownership more accessible.
- Security: As a member of the military, you likely learned more about security than most laypeople. Plus, because of your service, people may trust you to keep them safe.
- Veteran-Focused Business: Consider starting a business that caters to other veterans or service members. Did you struggle with something during your time in the service or transition back to civilian life that other vets may be struggling with? Is there a product or service that could have helped you overcome that struggle? Use your own experiences to inspire a great business idea that can help others.
Education, Training, and DevelopmentTo set yourself and your business up for success, it’s vital to learn as much about entrepreneurship as you can. This includes foundational business concepts such as:
- Accounting, bookkeeping, and finance;
- Operations and planning;
- Hiring and managing employees;
- Marketing and promotion;
- Business laws and regulations;
- Financial analysis and reporting.
EducationAs a veteran or service member, you have many educational benefits available to you. Consider taking advantage of these benefits to get a degree. You aren’t required to have a degree to open a business, but you — and your business — can benefit from having one. A degree will teach you about the basics of business ownership, which is vital if you aren’t already familiar with them, ensuring that planning and launching your business goes as smoothly as possible. Further, it may be worth going back to school for another degree even if you already have one, especially if that degree is not relevant to your business. You may want to learn more about your particular industry or something related to your business idea, but getting a more general degree, such as a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), can be just as useful. In more general programs, you’ll learn essential business skills, concepts, and knowledge that will prepare you for entrepreneurship and small business ownership. You may also benefit from a degree in a more specialized business subject area, such as data analytics, project management, marketing, or finance. Though not as all-encompassing as a general business degree, a degree in one of these specialized areas will still teach you skills that are crucial for successfully starting and running a business.
Training ProgramsGetting a degree isn’t the only way you can learn about entrepreneurship. Whether college isn’t available to you or you simply want to complete your entrepreneurial education more quickly, there are countless training opportunities available to prospective small business owners. What’s more, many of these programs and services were designed with veterans and service members in mind. Not only can they teach you what you need to know, but these programs also understand how to teach you, as they understand the unique perspective you have as a member or former member of the military.
- 1836: 1836 helps veteran entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses by taking advantage of any available opportunities.
- Boots to Business Program: Boots to Business is an entrepreneurial training program offered by the SBA to active-duty service members, veterans, and their spouses.
- Hiring Our Heroes Fellowship Programs: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce provides hands-on work training and employment opportunities to service members and veterans all over the country.
- Office of Veterans Business Development: The Office of Veterans Business Development is a subset of the U.S. SBA focused on making small business ownership more accessible to veterans.
- Operation Reboot: Operation Reboot helps service members identify and overcome the challenges they may face when transitioning into the workforce.
- Small Business Development Centers (SBDC): America’s SBDCs offer training and support to entrepreneurs and small business owners. They provide a search engine so you can find an SBDC in your area.
- The VETS Group: This non-profit organization helps veterans and their family members attain economic empowerment through entrepreneurship.
- Vetbiz: Vetbiz provides a wide range of support services — including counseling, consulting, training, and mentoring — to aspiring veteran entrepreneurs.
- VETRN: VETRN hosts a six-month course that teaches veterans about all aspects of entrepreneurship, including business planning and financial management.
- VetToCEO: Created by veteran entrepreneurs, this free virtual program helps veteran entrepreneurs become successful small business owners.
Networking, Mentorship, and GrowthNetworking, mentorship, and growth are all vital to building a business that is sustainable in the long term. It isn’t enough to simply establish your organization and hope for the best; you must actively work to improve both your business and yourself if you want your company to succeed. With more professional support, you have a greater chance of achieving your business goals. Networking and mentorship will help you find that support, allow you to develop as a business owner, and pave the way for the growth you’re working toward.
Networking ResourcesNetworking is valuable for virtually all professionals, but it’s particularly beneficial for entrepreneurs. Networking helps you make new connections with other people in your industry, but it can also improve business visibility, provide new opportunities, yield new resources, and help you develop your confidence as an entrepreneur. As a vet, it can be challenging to build up your professional network without the right support. In addition to other avenues, there are several networking opportunities open to current and former members of the military:
- BaseConnect: BaseConnect is a social network and online community exclusively available to military-affiliated individuals.
- Military Connection: Military Connection facilitates communications and networking between active duty service members and veterans to help them reach their employment goals.
- Patriot Boot Camp (PBC): PBC has created a community of military-affiliated entrepreneurs. Their Boot Camp programs are a useful way to meet and connect with members of that community.
- RallyPoint: RallyPoint is a social network dedicated to supporting members of the military, veterans, and their family members.
- Veterans Administration Conferences and Events: This page on the VA website hosts a list of upcoming events, conferences, and workshops (both in-person and virtual) open to veterans.
Mentorship ResourcesMentorship is similarly worthwhile for entrepreneurs. A professional mentor can guide you through the process of starting your business, using their previous experiences to give you advice. Essentially, you can learn from their past mistakes and avoid making them yourself. Further, having emotional support from someone who understands what you’re going through can make the more difficult aspects of entrepreneurship easier to handle. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a great mentor while networking. However, not everyone you meet is cut out to be your mentor, and it can take time to find the right person. You may also benefit from having a mentor who has also served in the military, so they can provide insight into the experience of being a veteran entrepreneur. The following programs, services, and platforms can help you find the right mentor for your needs:
- American Corporate Partners (ACP): ACP supports veterans and their spouses as they enter the workforce. Their year-long mentoring program is especially useful, as they hand-select mentors to help you accomplish your goals.
- LinkedIn: While not exclusive to veterans or service members, LinkedIn is the essential professional networking website for entrepreneurs.
- Military Talent Partners: Military Talent Partners uses coaching and mentorship opportunities to help veterans and transitioning members of the military find career success.
- The Rosie Network: The Rose Network provides mentoring, coaching, support services to active-duty service members and veterans who are looking to start their own business.
- SCORE: SCORE’s large network of entrepreneurs and small business owners provides countless opportunities to find a mentor.
- Veteran Business Outreach Center Program: Part of the U.S. SBA, the Veterans Business Outreach Center program provides business counseling and mentorship opportunities for veteran entrepreneurs.
- Veteran Fast Launch Initiative: This program supplies veterans with everything they need to start a business at little to no cost, but most importantly, it will connect you with an experienced mentor to help you start your business.
Tools and Programs for Business GrowthEntrepreneurship isn’t just about starting a business — it’s also about developing as a professional and growing that business. As you face both internal and external challenges, growing a business can be even more difficult than starting one. While you should work to develop and expand your organization organically, there are services available to support your business growth:
- Bunker Labs: Bunker Labs offers tools to help veterans and their spouses grow their businesses and connect with other entrepreneurs and business owners.
- Grow with Google: Google provides free resources, tools, and information to help entrepreneurs overcome the unique challenges facing veterans and service members.
- Veteran and Military Business Owners Association (VAMBOA): In addition to the “Vet Owned” seal that you can use in your marketing, VAMBOA has many different resources available that you can use to develop your business.
- Veteran’s Accelerator: From the Center for Business & Entrepreneurship, the Veteran’s Accelerator is designed to “empower Veterans to become self-sufficient through entrepreneurship.”
Loans, Grants, and Financial ResourcesSecuring adequate funding for your business is probably one of the biggest challenges you’ll face as an entrepreneur. Between purchasing supplies and hiring employees, starting a business can be expensive. If you have the means, you can fund the business yourself. If you’re lucky, you may find an angel investor or win a grant. Otherwise, you’ll likely have to get a small business loan. Depending on your financial history, this can prove to be quite difficult. To simplify the funding process, consider pursuing financial resources that are available specifically to veteran entrepreneurs:
- GrantWatch: GrantWatch provides a search engine that you can use to find veteran-specific grants, including grants for starting or growing a business.
- Hivers & Strivers: Hivers & Strivers is an angel investment group that focuses on funding veteran-owned businesses.
- Lender Match: This service from the SBA connects entrepreneurs with lenders to get SBA-backed funding for their businesses.
- SBA Grants: The SBA provides grants to entrepreneurs and small businesses in certain industries.
- StreetShares: A veteran-owned business itself, StreetShares offers business loans, lines of credit, and other funding to service members and veterans who are starting small businesses.
- Task Force X Capital: TFX Capital is a veteran-founded venture capital fund that gives funding and non-financial support to other veteran business owners in the technology space.
- Veterans Business Fund: This nonprofit organization gives veteran entrepreneurs no-interest loans so they have the necessary capital to start a business.
- Veterans Ventures Capital: Veteran Ventures Capital supports veteran entrepreneurs with both funding and business consulting services.
- Warrior Rising: Warrior Rising is a non-profit organization that supports veterans with funding, mentoring, and a community as they work to become small business owners.
- YouHelp: YouHelp is a crowdfunding platform that veterans can use to raise money for their businesses.
Resources for Veteran Entrepreneurs with DisabilitiesIf you’re one of the 26% of veterans with a service-related disability, then you have different needs than other vets and entrepreneurs. Luckily, there are many different resources and programs intended to support veteran entrepreneurs with disabilities, and vets with service-connected disabilities in particular:
- Disability Services: This page provides information about the government, social, and financial benefits available to individuals with disabilities.
- Job Accommodation Network (JAN): JAN provides support services to individuals with disabilities as they seek employment or start their own businesses.
- The National Center for Disability Entrepreneurship: This program educates and assists entrepreneurs with disabilities as they work to start a business.
- Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS): PASS helps individuals with disabilities obtain the resources they need to return to the workforce or start a business.
- Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program: The federal government awards at least 3% of all federal contracting dollars to small businesses owned by veterans with service disabilities. If you participate in this program, you can compete to win these contracts.
- Veteran Disability Benefits: This page offers information about the government benefits available to veterans with service-related disabilities.
- Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E): This benefit helps veterans with service-related disabilities explore employment opportunities.
- VR&E Self-Employment Track: This benefit provides training and support services to service members and veterans with service-related disabilities who are pursuing entrepreneurship.
Additional Resources for Active-Duty Service Member and Veteran EntrepreneursFor additional support and more information, consult the following organizations and resources:
- bUSA: This online small business directory contains myriad resources on seemingly all aspects of business ownership.
- Military-Transition.org: As the name suggests, this website provides transitioning service members and veterans with advice and information about reintegrating into civilian life.
- National Veteran Small Business Coalition (NVSBC): In addition to supporting veteran-owned businesses, the NVSBC is an advocacy group that fights for veterans’ rights at the federal level.
- Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization: This VA office works to help businesses that are owned by veterans and veterans with service disabilities compete for federal contracts.
- Small Business Search Engine: This search engine can help you find more government tools and information about small business ownership.
- System for Award Management (SAM): SAM allows you to register your organization so you can do business with the federal government.
- The Task Force for Veterans’ Entrepreneurship: This membership-based organization advocates for greater support for veteran entrepreneurs and business owners.
- The Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP): By logging into the VEP, you can access federal services and information about small business ownership more quickly and easily.
- VetBizCentral: At VetBizCentral, you can certify your organization as a “veteran-owned small business” or “service-disabled veteran-owned small business,” giving you access to or the ability to compete for certain federal contracts.
- Veteran Institute for Procurement: This training center helps veteran-owned businesses prepare for and secure federal contracts.
- VetFran: VetFran educates veterans about the benefits of owning a franchise and assists them in pursuing that goal.
- Vets First Verification Program: The Vets First Verification programs allowed verified businesses to compete for government contracts that are set aside for businesses owned by veterans and veterans with disabilities.
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