Tools and Programs for Veteran Entrepreneurs

Are you a veteran or service-disabled veteran? Interested in launching your own business?

According to the latest SBA data, of the 27.1 million non-farm businesses in the U.S., 2.4 million are owned by veterans. Moreover, statistics show that the success rate of these veteran-owned businesses is higher than other startups – perhaps a reflection of the discipline, skills and leadership experience acquired in military service.

There are a number of resources and programs from a variety of government and non-profit associations that are designed specifically to help veterans access the tools, funding and help they need to start and grow their business ventures.

Here’s what you need to know:

Getting Started – Online and In-Person Resources

This 10-Step Guide to Starting a Business is essential reading for any entrepreneur, but there are also some very specific resources and in-person assistance programs that can help veterans learn more about the programs available to them. These include:

  • Online Resources to Help You Get Started – SBA’s Veteran and Service-Disabled Veteran Small Business Guide is a one-stop portal with links to programs and resources, financing information, government contracting opportunities and other resources.
  • Veterans Business Outreach Centers – Operated by SBA, these centers provide services such as business training, counseling (in areas such as business planning assistance and concept feasibility) and mentoring (every entrepreneur is teamed with a business counselor). There are 16 centers across the country.
  • Small Business Development Centers – If you don’t have a Veterans Business Outreach Center in your area, you’re very likely to find a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) nearby. There are 1,001 lead centers and satellite centers nationwide, each providing business training, seminars and one-on-one consulting. Sponsored and partially funded by SBA, these centers also offer support for veterans, including help with understanding their financing options.
  • SCORE’s Veterans Fast Launch Initiative – Launched in 2011, this government- and commercially-sponsored initiative offers veteran entrepreneurs access to a combined package of free software, workshops and free business advice. The Walmart Foundation, a primary sponsor, will also give scholarships to participants for SCORE’s “Simple Steps for Starting Your Business” series.

Financing Your Venture

If you need financing help, SBA’s Patriot Express and SBAExpress small business loan programs offer low-interest rates and streamlined and expedited procedures for members of the military community (responses to loan applications are made in 36 hours). The Patriot Express loan, for example, can be used for a variety of business purposes including start-up, expansion, equipment purchases, working capital, inventory or business-related real estate purchases. Learn more here. Note that SBA doesn’t provide or fund loans directly; instead, it guarantees a portion of the qualified loan made by a lender, reducing the risk for the lender and improving the approval odds for the borrower.

Help with Business Opportunities

Two specific sectors offer big opportunities and incentives for veteran-owned small businesses – government contracting and franchising.

1. Doing Business with Your Former Employer – Government Contracting – The government has an annual goal to set aside 3 percent of the total value of all prime contract and subcontract awards for participation by veteran-owned small businesses. There are many programs and resources that can help you take advantage of this opportunity:

  • Find out if you qualify – To determine if you can bid for government business as a veteran or service-disabled veteran, review the following eligibility requirements.
  • Read up on the contracting process – SBA’s Government Contracting Small Business Guide includes information about becoming a federal contractor, finding business opportunities, and following the rules and regulations for government contractors. This blog also offers a quick read on this topic: Selling to the Government – Get Started with these 5 Steps.
  • Online training – These step-by-step online training guides (See “A Veterans Guide”) can help you compete more successfully in this market.

2.  Franchising Incentives for Veteran Entrepreneurs – If you want to be your own boss but are wary of the startup risks, buying a franchise can be an appealing alternative. For veterans considering buying a franchise, there are added incentives. The VetFran program, started by the International Franchise Association, provides financial incentives to veterans, such as franchise fee that are not available to civilian franchise investors. A current list of participating companies and the discounts they offer is available on this Web site, www.franchise.org, under ‘VetFran Directory.’

If you like the idea of a franchise, make sure to do your research first. This guide provides helpful advice on buying and evaluating a franchise.

The Author  is Caron Beesley  a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed.

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