Starting a small business can be a struggle for anyone. Finding the right product or service to sell in addition to writing a business plan and getting the financing together are tasks that can wear down the hardiest of souls. For veterans with little civilian workplace experience, it can sometimes be a formidable challenge. However, in a climate in which, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces since September 2001, was 12.1 percent in 2011, a figure higher than the general unemployment number in the U.S., owning and operating a small business can be a viable alternative to the standard 9 to 5 job. But there are still hurdles to overcome.
Get certified as a veteran-owned company
This official designation helps veterans gain access to federal set-aside contracts and Fortune 1000 opportunities. Click onto this link at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to find out further information.
Contact SBDCs in your community
Small business development centers (SBDCs), which provide educational services to business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs and are administered by the SBA are excellent resources for veterans because they offer a wealth of free information from experts on topics such as business strategies, product development and marketing.
However, not all SBDCs serve businesses in every stage of development, says Claudia Viek, CEO of California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity (CAMEO), a statewide network of entrepreneurial training programs and microlenders that also targets veterans seeking to start a business. “Sometimes they don’t know what to do with a pre start-up,” she says. “They like to work with you if you’re already in business.” However, she adds that because the SBA is scheduled to have funding in 2013 for more veteran programs, small business development centers (SBDCs) are “ramping up right now with a ‘boots to business’ program.”
The SBA website—where one can also find links to SBDCs and women’s business centers is a great resource for veterans because it offers free online business plan templates that veterans can use to develop their own business plan.
Approach veteran-friendly nonprofits that offer grants or loans to business start-ups
To accommodate the heavy concentration of veterans living in California, particularly in the Los Angeles, San Diego, and Fresno areas, CAMEO, with corporate sponsorship, has started a pilot initiative that provides training assistance and grant money in the range of $20,000 to $35,000 to veterans. Although CAMEO itself doesn’t offer loans, Viek points out that they do work with community development financial institutions (CDFI) that lend to startups and businesses.
If a veteran wishing to launch a business came to CAMEO, Viek explains that he or she would be directed to one of 86 organizations in its network that provide business assistance, training, and lending. “If they were looking specifically for a loan, we would direct them to our website as well as to identify a CDFI their community,” she says. “The CAMEO’s website has a listing and a map of all the organizations in California that provide these services and they aren’t veteran-specific. They provide services to all entrepreneurs but they have a specific program for vets as well and have created relationships with veteran organizations and communities.”
One notable nonprofit that could be a significant boon for entrepreneurial-minded veterans is Association of Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), a membership organization that supports microbusiness development in the U.S. “They represent people of all organizations all over the U.S who provide training, business assistance, and services,” says Viek.
Search online for resources
“There are a growing number of resources for veteran entrepreneurs,” says Scarlet. If you go online, “you will find a plethora of agencies and programs for entrepreneurs in general and for vets in particular.” Here are a few links she highly recommends for veterans interesting in becoming small business entrepreneurs:
Another resource for veterans to check out is VetBizGo, a resource and referral microsite that targets veterans in business. Launched by Dr. William Osgood, an entrepreneurial expert who’s written numerous books on small business development and is also an Army veteran, the microsite has a learning module called 10 Steps to Venture Success program. Here, explains Dr. Osgood, veterans “can learn both online and offline as well as work with an experienced business development mentor.”
See if your state has Small Business Technology and Development Centers (SBTDCs). (For instance, North Carolina has one—see link). SBTDCs, which are partnered with SBDCs are resources that help grow and develop small businesses. Says Scarlet: “They can help with almost everything related to starting and running a business—from helping you with your business plan to identifying and preparing you for federal business opportunities;”
Attend Syracuse University's Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities. “It's powerful, it's informative and it's free to attend,” notes Scarlet; and,
Attend the annual National Veteran Small Business Conference where you can meet with and pitch your company to hundreds of federal agencies and Fortune 500 companies.