Pursuing a second career after leaving the military can be challenging, which is why a growing number of veterans choose to become entrepreneurs.
A 2018 study by the the Small Business Administration (SBA) Office of Advocacy reported that there were over 379,000 veteran-owned employer businesses in the U.S., and overall, 6.8 percent of all employer businesses were majority owned by one or more veterans.
Although veteran-owned businesses are often more successful than the average startup, they still need mentorship, funding and support to take their idea from concept to market.
If you’re a veteran hoping to start a business, here are five tips to get you started:
Find a need and fill it.
Developing a business idea is essential, but how do you recognize one?
As you look around your local community, take the time to talk to people to discover unmet needs. What is missing that your community currently wants? What problem can you solve? Once you figure this out, you can determine how to make your idea a reality.
Develop your passion.
As a veteran, you possess a unique set of skills that could be translated into a viable business. Many veterans have created product ideas based on their field experience, from energy drinks to performance gear.
Create a business plan.
Before you can pitch your idea to investors or apply for a loan from a financial institution, you should draft a business plan. While there’s no specific formula, your plan should include the following components:
- An executive summary
- Overview of your company’s goals
- Market analysis
- Product or service development
- Financial projections
Seek advice from experts.
There are numerous counseling, mentoring and training programs available for veterans who are seeking to become entrepreneurs. Contact the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at your local community college to locate programs near you.
Some great resources include:
- U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: The Department of Veteran Affairs offers numerous resources for post-military life. If you’re an aspiring veteran business owner, check out the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal for step-by-step guidance on financing, training, government contracts and more.
- Bunker Labs: Bunker Labs is a non-profit organization with chapters across the United States. It enables military veterans and their spouses to take online and in-person educational courses, which teach them how to run a successful business. It’s also an excellent networking resource, as it connects veterans with fellow entrepreneurs and mentors. Listen to this episode of StartupNation Radio, which features the Detroit chapter of Bunker Labs.
- SBA’s Office of Veteran Business Development: The Small Business Administration’s Office of Veteran Business Development is an excellent resource that offers programs specifically to help veterans succeed in business. It’s one of the first stops you should make on your road to entrepreneurship.
- VetFran: Opening a franchise is a popular way for military veterans to become entrepreneurs. Veterans make up only 7 percent of the population, but 14 percent of all American franchises. VetFran is a network of 650 suppliers and International Franchise Association members who provide discounts to veterans on their initial franchise fees and supplies. The organization also offers a Veteran Toolkit to help vets determine what franchise might be right for them.
- VetToCEO: VetToCEO offers a free online course to help veterans prepare for the challenges of owning and operating a business. The 7-week program helps veterans create a business model and develop a funding strategy, and it enables them to collaborate with other veterans. This is not only a great way to get your feet wet as an entrepreneur, but also a perfect opportunity to network with fellow veterans.
- V-WISE: Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) is an entrepreneurship training program for female service members. Operated by Syracuse University, the SBA partially funds it. The V-WISE program includes a 15-day online course, a 3-day training in-person event, and continued mentoring.
- SCORE: SCORE is the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors. Find your local chapter here, and review these excellent resources for veteran entrepreneurs.
Apply for veteran business financing
Military veterans have access to various financing options to help kickstart a business. Your veteran status can open many doors for finding loans with specialty lenders, credit unions and banks. Your status also enables you to take advantage of investment programs run and operated by former military members.
Government-backed loans provide additional security to lenders, so your loan application is more likely to be approved.
- SBA’s Microloan Program: The SBA’s Microloan Program provides startups with loans up to $35,000. In addition, the SBA 7(a) Express Loan Program grants loans up to $350,000 within 36 hours.
- StreetShares: Veteran-run financial solutions provider, StreetShares in partnership with JP Morgan Chase, caters specifically to veteran business owners. As a military entrepreneur, you can apply for loans, lines of credit, contract financing, and other programs to fund your venture’s financial needs.
- Hivers & Strivers: Hivers & Strivers investment group is founded and run by graduates of U.S. Military Academies and provides financial support to startups. A typical Hiver and Strivers investment is $250,000 to $1,000,000.
Military veterans bring a wealth of life experience to entrepreneurship. That doesn’t mean they don’t require some help along the way from mentors, exclusive loan access, marketing strategies and network development opportunities.
If you are a veteran seeking a new career as an entrepreneur, take advantage of the organizations that make entry into the world of entrepreneurship a reality for those who have served our country.
Originally published Aug. 11, 2019.