Military life prepares veterans very well for entrepreneurship: They have honed their skills in teamwork, leadership, and discipline, and have cultivated grace under pressure, an ethos of service, and a willingness to work hard.
According to research conducted by the Watson Institute at Brown University, 250,000 service members transition out of the five branches of the military each year, and many of them enter civilian life with an enthusiasm for entrepreneurship.
There are many resources to help these new entrepreneurs succeed. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and a variety of private organizations provide helpful resources and programs that veterans can look to for support and guidance. There are also many places where veterans can turn for business loans to help them get up and running.
Resources and guidance for veteran entrepreneurs
Vetbiz: This excellent web resource from the VA offers resources for incubating, financing, and scaling your business, including specifics about how to get contracts with the federal government.
Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP): Run by the VA's Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU), this resource-rich site serves as a one-stop shop for veteran entrepreneurs looking for information about programs, resources, and support.
SCORE Foundation: A wide network of volunteers and a helpful website make this SBA partner organization a great resource for all entrepreneurs, including veterans. Its page of resources for veteran entrepreneurs offers recorded webinars and showcases profiles of veteran-owned businesses.
VETS Group: A nonprofit community-based organization, Veterans Enterprise Training & Services (VETS) Group helps vets develop skills for entrepreneurship, including offering seminars in business and training in information technology.
VetNet: Run by Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), this site offers veterans free online webinars about employment and entrepreneurship topics.
Veteran EDGE (Engage. Develop. Grow. Evaluate.): This four-day conference organized by IVMF is aimed at veteran and military spouse business owners and those who support them.
Center of Excellence for Veteran Entrepreneurship (COE): Run by IVMF, this institute is focused on collating and sharing resources and networks related to entrepreneurship for transitioning veterans.
Business assistance program for veterans
Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) Program: Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC) around the country, part of the SBA, provide business training, coaching, and referrals to a network of partner organizations. Vets can sign up for business plan workshops, entrepreneurial training, feasibility analysis, mentorship, and other options.
Operation Boots to Business (B2B) and Boots to Business Reboot (B2BR): These training programs for veteran entrepreneurs provide structured guidance and advice on topics like business concepts, business plans, and SBA resources. B2B takes place on-installation and B2BR happens off-installation. A six-week, virtual course called B2B Revenue Readiness, delivered by Mississippi State University, is available to graduates of these courses.
Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) Self-Employment track: This VA program helps veterans with a service-connected disability that makes it hard to pursue traditional employment. The program provides training and guidance in developing a business plan and finding the right resources to start the business.
Bunker Labs: This nonprofit, founded by military veterans, helps veterans start and grow businesses through a variety of programs, such as the online "Launch Lab" and a 14-module entrepreneurship challenge called Bunker in a Box.
Patriot Boot Camp: A nonprofit organization, Patriot Boot Camp offers active-duty service members, veterans, and their spouses a three-day intensive training program and access to resources for starting a business.
Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV): Founded by Syracuse University and now expanded to a range of universities across the country, this three-phase program is designed to turn veterans into entrepreneurs. Related programs are: EBV-Spark, which helps potential business owners develop basic skills and generate ideas; EBV Accelerate, a three-day residency-based training program open to veteran entrepreneurs who have been in business for three years and employ five or more employees; and EBV-F (EBV-Families), which offers business training tailored to military family members with caregiving responsibilities.
W-VISE: The Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE), run by IVMF, provides women veterans and female military spouses with entrepreneurship and small business management training and conferences.
IGNITE: This one-day training event run by IVMF includes a business pitch competition.
The Startup Training Resources to Inspire Veteran Entrepreneurship (STRIVE): Offered by IVMF through various university partners, this six-week training program helps veterans take a business idea and work through its early stages.
R.I.S.E. (Resilience. Innovate. Sustain. Evaluate.): Hosted by the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship, part of Florida State University's College of Business, this six-week virtual, boot camp-style program is dedicated to helping veteran business owners tackle specific business challenges.
Federal contracting resources for veterans
Federal contract set-asides: A certain percentage of many federal government contracts is earmarked for particular groups, including Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned (SDVO) small businesses. The Veterans Administration offers the Vets First Verification Program, which assists vets in accessing VA set-asides. Veterans follow the same procedures and processes for becoming a federal contractor (otherwise known as a GSA Vendor) that non-veterans do.
Veteran Institute for Procurement (VIP): A variety of training programs from VIP help veteran business owners learn how to navigate federal procurement. The VIP START program helps entrepreneurs get started in procurement, VIP GROW assists them in developing strategies for operating in the federal marketplace, and VIP INTERNATIONAL explores engagement in federal and commercial contracting overseas.
Loans for veteran-owned businesses
SBA Veterans Advantage Loans: The SBA provides loans with reduced fees to qualified veterans through its 7(a) business loan program. These loans are disbursed and administered by SBA partner institutions. The first step for those interested is to contact the closest Veterans Business Outreach Center or a local SBA district office to learn more about pursuing this option.
Navy Federal Credit Union: Membership in this financial institution is limited to servicemembers and veterans, which means that the assistance offered will be targeted to the specific needs of veteran entrepreneurs. The credit union offers a full suite of business financing products.
StreetShares: StreetShares was founded by and is run by veterans who prioritize lending to veteran-owned businesses. The StreetShares Foundation, a nonprofit organization, runs the Veterans Small Business Awards, which provide cash prizes to veteran-owned small businesses that have a social impact on their communities.
Hivers and Strivers: This angel investment group only funds businesses led by military veterans. This funding is not a loan or a grant: Angel investors take a stake in a company and may expect to exert some control over management in exchange for funding.
Veterans who want to start a business have a tremendous wealth of resources at their fingertips, from information websites to training programs to loans. There are so many resources out there that half the challenge is figuring out which program is right for you.