Guide to Becoming a Veteran Entrepreneur

National Veterans Foundation

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As post-9/11 veterans re-enter civilian life and begin transitioning to new careers, many find they’re perfectly suited to becoming a veteran entrepreneur. Here’s a guide for veteran entrepreneurs, complete with some resources. There is no time like now to learn more and get started on this exciting, new phase of your life.

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First, let’s confirm what you might already know to be true: veterans make great entrepreneurs! Here’s why…

Why being a Veteran Entrepreneur Works

You might think that transitioning from the highly structured world of the military to the seemingly wild-West style, chaotic world of launching your own business would be… well: very difficult. But the opposite is actually true for so many veterans. Here are a few reasons why.

  1. Military Skills Prepare Veterans for Entrepreneurship

First and foremost, there are at least two levels of training you take with you when you leave the service and enter civilian life. Already, you’re starting out with a lot more experience than many folks who were never in the military.

On one level, you’ve received very specific skills training related to your function while in the service. On another level, and perhaps more importantly, you’ve received extremely valuable “soft skills” training. That’s what really takes veteran entrepreneurs far. It refers to the way you are able to relate to other people, work as part of a team, become a leader, stay motivated, and more.

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Todd Fisher, a successful ex-military man who owns two businesses in Pennsylvania, credits his military experience with helping him become a successful veteran entrepreneur. For one, his training in electronics and communication technology was incredibly valuable for preparing him to start his software applications and consulting firms.

Secondly, the so-called “soft skills” he picked up while in the service have also proved to be invaluable in getting along in the business world. One skill that’s common in the military and important in business is the ability to seek knowledge from people who have more experience than you, even if you “outrank” them. That’s a key ingredient for great teamwork, which is more and more becoming recognized as a common thread in many of today’s most successful startups as well as established small and medium-sized businesses.

  1. Veterans possess extraordinary discipline.

Ask any entrepreneur what the most difficult part of getting a business up and running would be, and you’re likely to hear a lot of people say something like sticking with my goals and not giving up.

If that’s the case, then veterans should be all set. It’s hard to make it through military service without gaining a strong sense of discipline, after all. That means if a veteran sets a goal, he’s (or she’s) very likely to do what it takes to reach that goal!

  1. Veterans are great at problem-solving.

If there’s one thing you can say about most veterans, it’s that they’ve learned to solve problems in very creative ways. Often approaching solutions from unique angles, veterans who can transfer that skill to business have great potential.

Here’s one example: take Fred Smith, founder of FedEx. He was an officer in the Marines before he started his company in 1971. And what did he do in the Marines? He flew with pilots in order to observe ground action. He was able to observe logistics systems up close. This gave him an insider’s view of how planning and executing large-scale operations worked. Furthermore, this helped him gain some first-hand experience with how big problems got solved.

  1. Veterans also possess a healthy, broad perspective.

That military experience also gave Mr. Smith extraordinary perspective, which, it seems, he turned into the basis for his multi billion dollar enterprise that we all know as FedEx today.

So, armed with skills, discipline, problem-solving abilities and a broad perspective, what are you waiting for? Here are some programs that offer training and other resources for those who may have the veteran entrepreneur spirit.

 

Programs for Veteran Entrepreneurs to Know About

  1. American Corporate Partners.

This is a non-profit that matches veterans with mentors from Fortune 500 companies. The mentorships last for an entire year, and during that time veterans learn how to take their military experience and translate it into the corporate world.

Mentors come from companies like Allstate, Deloitte, Disney, Fidelity, Lockheed Martin, Time Inc, and other highly recognizable names in the corporate world.

  1. Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) at Syracuse University.

This is week-long training for veterans and their families. The training is for post-9/11 veterans who have disabilities from serving. They get help in developing the skills they’ll need to launch a small business.

For military family members, the EBV training is for caregivers who care for a disabled post-9/11 vet. It offers them a chance to learn about launching and running a small business. This program is completely funded, so veteran entrepreneurs and/or family members pay nothing. EBV operates on ten different campuses nationwide, and have been around for ten years now.

  1. The Women Vetrepreneurship Program (WVP) at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC).

That’s a mouthful, but for women veterans who want to launch or grow a new business, it’s a program offering resources in several forms. First, there’s a 4-week bootcamp offering training for developing a startup.

Then, there are counseling services, loans, a financial assessment, networking, and mentoring. This program is offered in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs. WBDC is a program run as a resource partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration, and has other programs.

  1. VBOC@WBDC

The Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC) and Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) run this program that, despite it name is for both men and women veterans who want to start businesses. The only catch: you must be in Illinois, Minnesota, or Wisconsin.

This organization also offers its business development services to active duty service members (including Guard and Reserve) and family member of veterans and active duty members. Those services are business training, business loans, counseling, networking, and online courses.

 

Becoming a Certified Veteran-Owned Business

The VA operates a number of helpful resources, many of which fall under the wing of the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU). On their website, veterans can find economic opportunity programs, plus all about how to become a certified veteran-owned business.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, there are plenty of advantages to becoming certified. One of the biggest advantages is gaining access to a whole world of VA contracts. The VA spends over $3 billion annually with certified veteran-owned businesses. If your business is certified, you qualify to work on contracts at the national network of VA hospitals, clinics, offices. tech centers, cemeteries and more.

Meanwhile, back at the OSDMU website, there are interactive tools that a veteran entrepreneur might find especially helpful. One, called “Start a Business“, takes veterans through several steps designed to point them to the right information and resources for the type of business they’re thinking about starting.

There are several other helpful tools and resources on the website. However, at this early stage in the game, let’s concentrate on resources that will help you with getting your business up and running.

All in all, these are just some of the programs and resources available to any veteran entrepreneur. There are many more like these out there.

Let’s turn to other promising news for veterans thinking about becoming entrepreneurs: legislation that’s currently cycling in Congress.

The Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition (VET) Act of 2015

You’ve heard of the G.I. Bill, which has helped thousands of veterans go to college after serving in the military. But did you know that about half of all G.I.’s don’t even use this valuable benefit?

Plus, of the veterans who do use their G.I. Bill benefit, just under half actually complete a full program of study. That, combined with the fact that the U.S. government spent almost $1.4 billion for unemployment benefits for veterans in 2013 has prompted some clever ideas in Congress. (Source: the VET Act, see link below).

This legislation is called the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition (VET) Act of 2015 and it’s already passed a few hurdles in Congress. If passed, it will handily solve those three unsavory facts by allowing veterans to use their G.I. Bill benefit to start up their own business.

 

Conclusion

Are you the next veteran entrepreneur?

According to the National Women’s Business Council, which got its stats from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are upwards of 2.5 million veteran-owned companies in the U.S., which represents more than nine percent of all businesses.

With programs like those described above, plus the legislation that’s currently in Congress, we can hope for an even greater number of veteran entrepreneurs in the near future.

Everyone can do his or her part, even without military experience, to help those interested in becoming a veteran entrepreneur. If you’re not a veteran yourself, think about becoming a mentor if you have business experience.

Alternatively, you can support the efforts of veteran entrepreneurs by donating to the National Veterans Foundation. We offer community education and training for veterans, especially in the areas of PTSD, Compassion Fatigue, and Anger Management. We also maintain a database of jobs for veterans and offer a free Veteran Resume Guide.