Every November, America recognizes the dedication and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans by setting aside a special day known as Veterans’ Day. While the recognition is certainly justified, solving the issues facing veterans in these challenging times takes more than a date on the calendar. The statistics are staggering, more than 250,000 service members transition out of the five branches of the military each year. Add this to the harsh reality of the unemployment figures and the long-lasting recession, and the federal government realized something drastic needed to be done.
The Impetus for the Operation
As jarring as some of those numbers are, the flipside of the coin was equally eye-opening. Veterans own 9% of all small businesses and within those 2.45 million businesses, veterans employ more than 5 million people. Veterans are more likely than individuals with no active-duty military experience to be self-employed. And nearly one quarter of all vets cite an interest in starting their own business one day. This is precisely where crisis met opportunity.
Operation Boots to Business
Piloted specifically with the U.S. Marine Corps, the goal of Boots to Business is to eventually help veterans from all divisions of the military become entrepreneurs and create more jobs in the process. The operation currently ties into the standard corps transition readiness seminar, which is a requirement for all departing Marines.
The seminar offers four paths Marines can choose from in preparation for their civilian lives. These paths include entrepreneurship, employment, education and technical training. If a Marine chooses entrepreneurship, the Boots to Business program then provides them with resources, unique skills and knowledge.
The federal government jumpstarted the program in conjunction with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA helps connect the veterans with other professional partners including Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) and Women’s Business Centers (WBCs). The SBA partners will then coordinate training and services at military bases around the country. The first four pilot locations named are Quantico, Va., Cherry Point, N.C., Camp Pendleton, Calif. and Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif.
“Our service men and women have made incalculable contributions and sacrifices for our country, and supporting them as they pursue their dreams to start or grow their own business is one of our highest priorities,” SBA Administrator Karen Mills posted on the SBA website. “Through this partnership, we stand ready with support, entrepreneurial training and resources that are critical tools to help them start businesses, drive economic growth and create jobs for themselves and their communities.”
The Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University also provides online business-planning training for eight weeks. The university's Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) operates the training. The three-phase program introduces service members to the theories of business ownership. After the transition readiness seminar (phase I listed below is a part of the seminar), service members can elect to continue to phases II and III immediately.
- Phase I – A video introducing service members to business ownership
- Phase II – A 90-minute session and corresponding textbook introducing business ownership
- Phase III – The Operation Boots to Business 8-week online mini MBA
A college degree is not needed to enroll in the program. In fact, the program takes any qualified participants, regardless of prior educational experience, through the stages of starting a new business. Nor do servicemen or women need to be business owners at the time of their enrollment.
Additional Programs for Veterans
Boots to Business isn’t the only federal program created recently either. There are more:
- Joining Forces. The Joining Forces Initiative was instituted more than a year ago and has enlisted dozens of American companies to hire or train more than 125,000 veterans and their spouses—well ahead of the initiative’s original goals. Joining Forces, combined with other legislation, resulted in a 20% decrease in veteran unemployment compared to the same time last year.
- In addition, more than 500 nursing schools embraced a commitment to educate 3 million American nurses, all in an effort to prepare the nurses to meet the health needs of returning service members, veterans and their families.
- VOW to Hire Heroes Act. There’s also the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which is comprised of the Returning Heroes tax credit and the Wounded Warriors tax credit. Both tax credits offer incentives for businesses that hire veterans. The Hire Heroes Act gives a maximum credit of $5,600 per veteran, while the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit offers a maximum credit of $9,600 per veteran.
These programs and incentives certainly aren’t a cure-all, but these small steps could change the lives of thousands of veterans and potentially alter the landscape of American business. The old adage remains true—all journeys begin with a single step. But receiving some sage advice from a trusted guide along the way to your ultimate destination never hurt anyone either.