Army Staff Sergeant Robbie Doughty was only 32 when a bomb in Iraq cost him both his legs. Honorably discharged from the Army, Doughty and his young family faced a very uncertain future as he endured months of rehabilitation - he had no idea how he would be able to care for them.
And then he received the phone call that changed his life.
On the other end of the line was Michael Ilitch, the owner of the Little Caesars Pizza franchise (as well as the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings.) Having read about Sergeant Doughty in USA TODAY, and even though he had never met Doughty, Ilitch simply wanted to thank the sergeant for his service and give him some words of encouragement.
Yet after a while, moved by the young man’s grit, determination, and story, Ilitch offered Doughty a remarkable opportunity: to open his own Little Caesars Pizza franchise in his hometown of Paducah, Kentucky. Amazed at his turn of good luck, Doughty accepted the amazing offer and today is a successful entrepreneur, taxpayer, father and husband.
And he is not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, veteran-owned businesses represent 9% of all U.S. businesses, roughly 2.5 million strong, employing almost 6 million people.
If you think about it, it is not surprising that veterans make great entrepreneurs. Their experience gives them the leadership skills, organizational abilities, commitment and work ethic that are the hallmarks of small business success. But the thing is, while veterans have the talent and drive needed to own a small business, very few of them have a Michael Ilitch in their lives. So where do our returning veterans go when they, too, want to become entrepreneurs?
Both the government and businesses across the United States have realized that helping veterans helps the country, and as such, there are a variety of very good programs available these days to assist in the transition from soldier to small businessperson:
The Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE) (part of the Department of Veterans Affairs): CVE is dedicated to helping Veterans start and build their businesses. Its website serves as the federal government’s portal for all things related to veteran-owned businesses: VetBiz.gov.
The Verification Assistance Program: There are many benefits to having a veteran-owned small business be certified as such, including being able to bid on government and other contracts. The problem is that getting certified can be a complicated process. That is where this program comes in – visit their website here to get the help you need.
The Small Business Administration: Of course, the SBA is very involved in veteran-owned business affairs and has a plethora of resources to help veterans find capital, build a business plan and more. The relevant website can be found here.
Even more significant is a new SBA program called Operation Boots to Business: From Service to Startup. This public-private partnership “uses a multi-phased approach to introduce transitioning service members to the fundamentals of small business ownership and to the SBA tools and resources available to them. The SBA aims to ultimately provide entrepreneurship awareness and opt-in training nationwide to the 250,000 service members from all branches of the military that transition each year.”
Veteran Fast Launch Initiative: SCORE, in conjunction with the Wal-Mart Foundation, has launched this initiative to help veterans become entrepreneurs.
Business Matchmaking: Business Matchmaking is another public-private partnership. Here, the idea is to match government and corporate procurement people with small business owners, including veteran small business owners. Over the years, almost 100,000 of such meetings have resulted in several billions of contracts being granted.
The National Veteran Owned Business Association: Says NaVOBA, “NaVOBA’s Mission is simple — to create opportunities for all of America’s veteran-owned businesses. More than 3 million men and women who have defended our nation’s freedoms by serving in America’s armed forces have made the choice to start their own small businesses after their military service. We call them vetrepreneurs. Whether they are looking to start a pizza shop on Main Street, open a franchise, sell to large corporations, or contract with local, state or even federal government agencies, NaVOBA is here to help.”
The Veterans Corporation (Veteranscorp.org): This is a great organization that helps all vets, including service-disabled veterans, obtain the tools and resources they need to be successful entrepreneurs.
So with Veteran’s Day approaching, here is a message for all of our veterans out there: Thank you for your service, and if you take advantage of any of these programs and start your own business, there are many of us that would be happy to pay you back by becoming your customers.
Are you a veteran who has opened a small business, or are you a small business owner that has helped a veteran become an entrepreneur? Share your stories with us below.
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.