Smart Answers

Resources for Veterans Running Businesses


I enjoyed your recent article, “Getting More Support to Veterans-Turned-Entrepreneurs.” I am a military veteran and a business owner. Can you write about what resources exist for me and the many other veterans getting into business? Thank you. —F.W., Erie, Pa.

There are a host of entrepreneurial resources for veterans. They focus on three areas: startup training; veteran-owned business certification and government contracting; and small business loans and other forms of financing.

In the training arena, one of the top programs is run out of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University in New York. The institute runs four veteran outreach programs online and in cities around the country, says Raymond Toenniessen, director of operations and development.

“We want veterans who are considering entrepreneurship to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to a program that offers training and education,” Toenniessen says. “We not only offer them training and give them knowledge, but we also equip them with practical resources and tools to overcome obstacles once they launch their businesses.” The Institute has relationships with legal firms, incorporation services, graphic designers, and Web masters who will work for their graduates on a pro bono or discounted basis, he says.

That extended support, and the fact that the training programs are free or low-cost for qualified veterans, accounts for their popularity, he says. Unfortunately, the programs are so popular that they fill up quickly and often must turn down applicants. Currently, the institute offers programs that include a nine-day entrepreneurship boot camp, a training program for military families and caregivers, a course for women veterans, and one for National Guard and Reserve Service members.

Training for Entrepreneurial Veterans

Veterans considering entrepreneurship, or those who are already running companies and could still use some formal training, should check with their local colleges and Small Business Development Centers, to see if they offer training specifically for veterans. At 16 Veterans Business Outreach Centers, the SBA offers veterans business plan workshops, mentoring, and feasibility analysis.

In 1999, Congress passed legislation requiring that 3 percent of all federal contracting dollars be set aside for businesses that are at least 51 percent owned by service-disabled veterans. That amounts to billions in contracts annually, but government procurement consistently falls short of that goal, citing a lack of qualified bids.

Nonetheless, there are federal laws on the books favoring bids from disabled veterans. Many states have followed suit. Guidance and support on government contracting can be found online at several sites, including this General Services Administration site and this SBA site.

At VetBiz.gov, a division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, entrepreneurially minded veterans can get help registering their businesses in a small business database that grants them eligibility for procurement opportunities.

Supplier-Diversity Programs

Many large corporations have established similar goals for contracting with veteran-owned companies under their supplier-diversity programs. Often corporations consider doing business with businesses owned by disabled and non-disabled veterans, says Chris Hale, president of NaVOBA, the National Veteran-Owned Business Assn., a private membership organization that promotes employment and business ownership for veterans.

In terms of financial help, several franchise companies offer incentives and discount programs for vets who are looking to buy franchise outfits. Franchise Business Review, a franchise market-research firm, recently released a free report in which it evaluates franchises for veterans, based on a survey of 2,000 military-trained franchisees.

Along with its veterans business outreach centers, the SBA offers a Patriot Express loan program for veterans looking to start or expand their businesses. The SBA offers loan guarantees, for up to $500,000, through a network of participating lenders. Since the program was established in 2007, it has provided loan guarantees to more than 7,000 veterans, reservists, and military spouses.

While this is not a comprehensive list of all the resources available, it should provide you with some good places to start. New programs crop up frequently: Just last month, for instance, the U.S. Export-Import Bank announced a direct-access program for veteran-owned businesses seeking export financing. Good luck!

Karen_klein
Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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