Military veterans have long been a major source of entrepreneurial talent. The discipline, leadership, and work ethic honed through military service are great preparation for starting and growing a private-sector business. In fact, there are nearly 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses in the United States, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
If you’re a veteran planning to start a new business, or if you need assistance growing your existing business, there are many resources available to you. Here's a rundown of the key programs and what they have to offer.
The SBA Office of Veterans Business Development is a good first stop for entrepreneurial veterans. This federal government entity is a clearinghouse for all SBA-administered programs for veterans, service-disabled veterans, military reservists, and their dependents or survivors.
Among other roles, this office serves as a liaison between the SBA and the veterans business community, providing business training, counseling, and assistance. It also conducts policy analysis and reporting, acts as an ombudsman for veterans in SBA programs, and oversees federal procurement programs for small businesses owned by veterans and service-disabled veterans. These programs include:
- Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV): This program provides focused, practical training in the tools and skills required to start a new business. It offers a unique focus on disability and public benefits programs, as well as a support structure for participants after they graduate. The program consists of three phases: an initial self-study curriculum, a subsequent nine-day residency at one of six EBV Universities, and 12 months of ongoing support and mentorship from faculty experts at the EBV Universities.
- Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE): Women entrepreneurs face unique challenges in balancing their family and business commitments. These challenges are compounded for women veterans, who represent about 15 percent of the active-duty military, 16 percent of the reserves, and 20 percent of new recruits. The V-WISE program is geared toward business training, networking, and mentorship specifically for female veterans who want to start new businesses.
- Patriot Express Pilot Loan Initiative: This SBA loan program is available exclusively to veterans who want to start or expand small businesses. It is available to all veterans, service-disabled veterans, active-duty service members eligible for the military’s Transition Assistance Program, and reservists and National Guard members. The loan initiative is also available to the current spouses of individuals in these groups, as well as the widowed spouses of service members or veterans who died during service or of a service-connected disability. In addition, the SBA and its resource partners augment this initiative with additional counseling and training efforts.
- Operation Endure and Grow: This new, eight-week online training program is geared specifically to National Guard and reserve members and their families to teach the fundamentals of launching and growing a small business.
The Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) is operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. OSDBU advocates and supports the interests of veteran-owned small businesses, and it also provides outreach and liaison support.
In addition, the OSDBU Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE) is dedicated to helping veterans start and grow their businesses. Its website, VetBiz.gov, serves as a federal government portal for veterans who own small businesses.
The National Veterans Business Development Corporation (also known as The Veterans Corporation) was established by Congress to improve access to technical entrepreneurial assistance for veterans. It organizes public and private resources and uses the business development staffs of federal departments to help veterans and service-disabled veterans start and grow small businesses. The Veterans Corporation also sponsors webinars and workshops on topics such as marketing to and doing business with the federal government.
Finally, the 2011 National Veteran Small Business Conference and Expo will be held Aug. 15 to 18 in New Orleans. The 2010 conference, held in Las Vegas, attracted more than 3,300 attendees, including veterans who own a small business, aspiring business owners, and firms that want to do business with veteran business owners.
Be sure to also read Government Resources That Help with Financial Management.
Don Sadler is a freelance writer and editor specializing in business and finance.