Many veterans seek to bring the knowledge they acquired during their service into civilian life by starting their own business. Thankfully, there are many programs to help these veteran entrepreneurs get started.
About 2.5 million businesses, or 9.1 percent of all businesses in the United States, are veteran-owned, employing 5.03 million people. Veteran-owned businesses are an integral part of the economy.
No matter the idea or the cause, all new businesses could benefit from a jumpstart to get off the ground. Luckily, there are a number of resources and programs available to veterans for this purpose.
1. Bunker Labs
This nonprofit organization was started by veterans for veterans. The organization provides services and resources for every stage of the entrepreneurial journey through online courses and by connecting with other entrepreneurs who are also veterans or military spouses. Some of Bunker Labs’ offerings include:
- Launch Lab Online is a gamified, interactive, all-online platform to help active service members and veterans get a start in entrepreneurship education no matter where they are located.
- The Veterans in Residence program provides six months of free co-working spaces to 10 veteran-owned companies in 17 cities.
- CEO Circle helps veteran business owners take the next step in growing their companies through monthly mastermind groups, held in more than 25 cities in the United States, with post-revenue growth-stage CEOs.
2. Boots to Business
The Small Business Association funds the aptly named Boots to Business, a free entrepreneurial education and training program available to all active-duty service members who are transitioning out of the military, as well as their spouses. This program is an essential asset to veteran entrepreneurs.
Boots to Business is part of the Transition Assistance Program: Goals, Plans, Success (TAP GPS), designed to help prepare service members for life post service. Boots to Business has three parts:
- The Entrepreneurship Track Overview is a video to introduce the idea of post-service entrepreneurship for veterans.
- Introduction to Entrepreneurship is a two-day in-person course offered to introduce participants to the necessary skills, knowledge, and resources they will need, including how to develop a business plan and more.
- Foundations of Entrepreneurship follows the completion of the former. This is an eight-week instructor-led online course that offers an in-depth study on the elements of a business plan and tips and techniques for starting a business.
3. Small Business Administration Veterans Advantage Guaranteed Loans
The Small Business Association (SBA) offers personalized loan programs with the intention of assisting veterans in their endeavors to raise capital to start, grow, or continue to succeed with a business.
In addition to providing training courses, the SBA also has online counseling available.
The SBA offers “fee-relief” on some small-dollar SBA guaranteed loans for veterans and their spouses. To qualify for this relief, a business must be 51 percent owned and operated by an individual in the following groups:
- Honorably discharged veterans
- Active-duty service members who are also eligible for the military’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP)
- Active Reservists
- Active National Guard Members
- Spouse of any veteran
- Widowed spouse of a service member who died while serving or as the result of a service-connected disability
4. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization
Colloquially known as “VetBiz,” this Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) portal provides information about and resources to help veteran entrepreneurs navigate applications for federal contracts.
VetBiz allows users to source verified veteran-owned businesses for sole-source contracts (a noncompetitive contract that allows a single supplier to fulfill the stipulations of the contract) and set-asides (funds earmarked to go to certain business entities, such as women-owned or veteran-owned, where a business needs to be pre-approved).
In addition, this portal offers:
- The ability for a veteran-owned business to become verified with the VA.
- Resources for federal procurement policies, management of VA small business goals, and administration of VA contract awards supported through acquisitions.
- Training for veteran business owners on how to do business within federal and commercial marketplaces.
- Procurement opportunities to a number of screened events such as networking, roundtable discussions, and one-on-one sessions with experts.
5. Hivers and Strivers
This angel investment group is focused on helping start-up companies founded and run by graduates of the U.S. Military Academies secure funding. Many of the angel investors involved with Hivers and Strivers are also veterans. The group acts as board members and advisors to the start-ups it invests in, as well as provides support and counsel when needed.
In a single round, Hivers and Strivers typically invests $250,000 to $1 million but the group is open to securing larger financing from peripheral investment groups when needed. Graduates with an idea for a small business can submit their idea on the Hivers and Strivers website.
6. Street Shares
Founded by two veterans who realized that banks don’t often lend to small businesses, this nonprofit seeks to provide funding that puts the veteran business owner first in a manner that is both fair and honest.
A digital financing platform for “America’s Heroes,” Street Shares offers many financial services such as lines of credit, small business loans, and Paycheck Protection Program loans.
The company offers educational services, mentors and coaching, and networking events. Street Shares also administers the Veteran Small Business Award, a grant program that provides a financial “boost” for veteran entrepreneurs (which most recently amounted to $15,000).
7. Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE)
This three-phase program provides female veterans or military spouses with educational resources for entrepreneurship and small business management. Operated by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, and funded in part by the SBA, this female-only program doesn’t offer grants, but the skills needed to open and operate a business.
There is a one-time registration fee of $75, but after that it is free for qualified participants. The three-phase program is as follows:
- A 15-day online learning experience.
- A three-day entrepreneurship training event in person offered in over locations across the country.
- Continued mentorship and support for those who go on to start their own business.
8. Veteran Entrepreneurship Portal
When federal services for veteran-owned businesses are needed, this VA portal has it all. For best practices and information on starting a business, sourcing funding, growing a business, networking, how to work with federal agencies, franchising, and outreach, as well as training materials and many other programs, take advantage of this key resource.
Hear it from the heroes: Here are tips from five veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs for any military service member or spouse considering starting their own business.
Marie Roker-Jones, Founder of Essteem
- Do the research and speak to potential customers to ensure product/service and market fit. Network using LinkedIn, Slack groups, and platforms such as LunchClub and Upstream to meet other people and talk about your business idea.
- Go outside of your military bubble to meet people who can help connect you to the right people and resources.
- Use your status as a veteran to access programs and resources that are free to veteran entrepreneurs such as Bunker Labs, Patriot Bootcamp, and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.
Valeri Colon, Founder of BONUM Business Solutions
- The military develops a strong sense of duty, loyalty, and brotherhood. As a veteran entrepreneur, draw on these values when developing your business.
- Connect with other former and current service members and explore ways to work with local, state, and federal agencies — this is your primary support network. Then branch out from there.
Vinny Delacruz, Founder of Christian Planner
- Starting a business is a ton of work for anyone. Anyone who serves or has served in the military has a warrior ethos, and having that myself was very helpful when I was launching Christian Planner. It’s so important to have that go-getter, warrior-like approach because that’s what will push you forward in times of struggle or uncertainty. It’s so important to connect with your community and utilize the resources available to you.
- Bunker Labs has been an incredible resource for me and I know the value it can provide to others looking to begin or enhance their entrepreneurial journey. I also encourage my fellow veterans to tap into that inner warrior — plan, execute, and repeat.
Charles Read, Founder of GetPayroll
- As veterans, the discipline and tenacity we bring to the table makes us great entrepreneurs. Completing the mission — business success — is the most important thing for an entrepreneur. You are trained to complete the mission, to overcome and adapt to every obstacle that gets in your way, no matter what. With that training and determination there is nothing a veteran can’t do quicker or better than a nonveteran. Hoorah!
Ruthie Bowles, Founder of Defy The Status Quo
- Work with one of the many veteran career transition organizations out there when it comes to translating military experience. As veterans, with unique experiences that the vast majority of the population doesn’t have, we often struggle to translate them so the civilian world can know how valuable they are. Even worse, we have experiences that we take for granted because many with military experience also have them.
- The veteran world is a small one though, so when compared with our entire population, those experiences and skills are highly valuable.
9. Office of Veterans Business Development Resources
Another SBA extension, the Office of Veteran Business Development Resources contains an abundance of resources for business fundamentals for veterans and their spouses.
From information for veterans and their families to specific resources for female veterans, service-disabled veterans, and grant opportunities for all veterans, if you’re a veteran business owner looking for support, the SBA has you covered.
10. The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans is an intense program that leverages higher-level education to coach post-9/11 veterans in entrepreneurial skills and business management completely for free.
Also based out of Syracuse University, but run by a consortium of universities, this interdisciplinary institution focuses on social, economic, education and policy issues affecting veterans and their families. The EBV quotes 72 percent of their graduates have gone on to start their own businesses.
The course’s three main veteran entrepreneur programs are:
- EBV Accelerate, a bootcamp-style accelerator concentrating on growth and financial management
- The EBV program, for early-stage businesses to develop entrepreneurial skills
- The EBV Families program, similar to the EBV program but for military families to grow their entrepreneurial and business management skills.
11. The Veterans Business Fund
This nonprofit organization was founded to combat high unemployment rates in military members post-service. The Veterans Business Fund (VBF) provides non-interest-bearing loans to help business owners satisfy the equity requirements for a small business loan.
With its favorable repayment terms, the VBF can help a veteran business owner who needs a boost in funds to secure a larger loan.
12. Warrior Rising
A nonprofit charity program, Warrior Rising uses donated funds to help veteran entrepreneurs, “vetrepreneurs,” get their business started via support, training, guidance, and mentorship.
Less than 15 percent of donations go to management or admin, ensuring the majority of the funds received are used to benefit military business owners. Available to veterans countrywide, Warrior Rising is run by veterans for veterans.
13. Patriot Bootcamp
The Patriot Bootcamp is a nonprofit program designed to help active-duty service members, veterans, and military spouses access mentorship, educational programs, and a community of peers and experts to help build strong business relationships and practices. A three-day in-person program, Patriot Bootcamp is held in eight cities nationwide.
As shown, there is a wealth of resources available to active-duty military service members, veterans, and military families regardless of ability or stage of business. Most are low-cost or completely free and are operated by veterans who understand the transition to civilian life.
From funding to education for the veteran or their spouse, and in some cases even their families, these programs are designed to thank veterans for their service and ensure they succeed in civilian life and beyond.