Articles

Here's how to join the 2.4 million vets who own their own businesses


(Photo:DVNF.org)

The business world seems to have realized that veterans make great entrepreneurs. Profiles of vets starting coffee shops, tech support companies, landscaping services, security firms, and a whole host of other businesses appear across the web on a frequent basis these days.

This should not be a great surprise. There are nearly 2.4 million veteran-owned businesses in the U.S., representing almost 9 percent of all businesses nationwide.

And, a study by the Kauffman Foundation, a well-respected entrepreneur support organization, indicates that approximately 25 percent (some say as high as 45 percent) of all active duty personnel want to start their own businesses upon leaving the service.

So, what makes veterans such successful entrepreneurs?

It is finally being recognized that the attitude, training, and skills gained from military service, such as discipline, hard work, a commitment to accomplishing the mission, the ability to both lead a team and function as a member of a team, and, most important, the almost innate ability to immediately pivot from plans that aren't working to plans that do, are valuable traits that make for a successful entrepreneur.

Indeed, the Kauffman Foundation states that veterans' "commitment to excellence, attention to detail, strategic planning skills and focus on success are the same traits that make business owners successful." And, Dan Senor and Saul Singer, in their book, "Start-Up Nation," say the main reason Israel is one of the most entrepreneurial nations on earth on a per capita basis is the country's compulsory military service, which creates an environment for hard work and a common commitment to accomplish the mission.

But, even though veterans have received excellent training in the military in the skills necessary to be successful entrepreneurs, not enough younger veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are choosing to start their own businesses. And, we don't know why.

After World War II, nearly one-half of all returning veterans started their own businesses—but, by 2012, that rate had dropped to less that 6 percent. Even more important, just over 7 percent of all current veteran-owned businesses are started by veterans under 35 years of age. The rest are started by older vets.

This makes some sense. Personnel mustering out of the Armed Forces after 20 years or so have a pension that gives them a financial cushion to take the risk of starting a new business. And, older vets retiring from a traditional job at around 65 years of age, and who are looking for something else to do, would most likely have their house paid off and their kids out of college, giving them the financial means to start a new business without risking their family's financial future.

But, it is the lack of younger veterans who are choosing entrepreneurship as a viable career path that is the critical issue in veteran entrepreneurship today.

Fortunately, over the past several years, there has been a burgeoning industry that has sprung up to help veterans who want to start their own businesses. Veteran led incubators and accelerators, as well as university and community college programs, government services, online resources, and community-based organizations have all answered the call to help aspiring veteran entrepreneurs realize their dream of owning and operating their own businesses.

While it is not possible to list all of the resources available to help veterans--and, particularly, younger veterans--who want to start businesses, a small sample of these programs in each of the categories mentioned is provided below:

  • Veteran Led Incubators—Bunker Labs (https://bunkerlabs.org) is probably the best known and most successful veteran led incubator in the country. While headquartered in Chicago, it has expanded to eleven cities around the nation. Its Chicago location is in the 1871 incubator facility, which gives veterans the crucial opportunity to interact with non-veterans who are creating new businesses. The "Bunker in a Box" program (http://bunkerinabox.org) enables veterans who are not near one of its urban locations to get some of the basic tools necessary to start a new business.
  • Veteran Led Accelerators—Vet-Tech (http://vet-tech.us) is the nation's leading accelerator for veteran-owned businesses. Located at Silicon Valley's Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, CA, it has an extensive network of financial, government, and management resources to bring a veteran-owned business to its next level of success.
  • University Programs—Syracuse University's Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (http://ebv.vets.syr.edu) is one of the most extensive programs in higher education for veteran entrepreneurship.  This program is offered at eight other colleges and universities around the nation.C
  • Community Colleges—Community colleges around the nation offer veteran entrepreneurship courses and programs, typically through their small business development centers. Wake Tech Community College in North Carolina offers a Veterans Entrepreneurship Advantage Course (http://www.waketech.edu/programs-courses/non-credit/build-your-business/entrepreneurship-initiatives) that is representative of these types of programs.
  • Government Services—The SBA's Boots to Business program (http://boots2business.org) is an example of the type of program offered by the government to transitioning service members to give them the basics in starting a new business.
  • Online Resources—VeToCEO (http://www.vettoceo.org) is a free online training program that assists veterans in leveraging their skills to start or buy a business and run it successfully. The American Legion Entrepreneur Video Series () is another no-cost source to give aspiring veteran entrepreneurs at least a basic introduction to starting and running a business.
  • Community-Based Organizations—SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, is an example of a community-based organization that is supporting veteran entrepreneurs with their Veteran Fast Launch Initiative (https://www.score.org/content/veteran-fast-launch-initiative).

Veterans interested in starting a business should research what resources are available to them in their local communities, and then pick a program that fits the type of business they are interested in creating.

Given all of the resources that are currently available to veterans interested in starting businesses, what does the future of veteran entrepreneurship look like? 

It looks pretty robust.

There are only two cautions that need to be mentioned about support for entrepreneurship initiatives for veterans:

The first is that many of these veteran entrepreneur support programs are relatively new—within the last couple of years, or so. The proof of their efficacy—of their value and worth—will be when they produce long-term, sustainable and profitable veteran-owned businesses---and, by long-term, I mean businesses that are in existence for at least five years, at a minimum. Some of these support programs are so new that not enough time has passed where this can be determined.

The second "caution", if you will, would actually be a good problem to have. While there is no evidence that this is presently occurring, there could come a time in the future when there are actually more veteran entrepreneur support programs than there are veterans to fill them. This will become evident when these programs begin to admit non-veterans in order to maintain their viability.

But, for now, it's all "blue skies and smooth sailing" for veterans who want to start businesses and the programs that support them.

Paul Dillon is the head of Dillon Consulting Services, LLC, a firm that specializes in serving the veteran community with offices in Durham and Chicago. For more visit his website here.

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