Cornell Irons opened a Charley's Grilled Subs franchise last year after spending 29 years in the Army.
With thousands of troops scheduled to return home this winter from the war in Iraq, a shaky economy and a declining job market could send many on the path to becoming entrepreneurs on the home front.
Veterans increasingly are forgoing the more traditional route of finding a job working for someone else in exchange for the opportunity to own their own business. There are already more than 3 million veteran-owned businesses operating nationwide. And there are a number of organizations, businesses and associations looking to help them get started, offering everything from marketing help to the basics for a launch.
Terry Powell is the founder and chief executive officer of the Entrepreneur's Source, which has helped thousands of veterans become business owners.
"In the last year or two, we have seen a lot more," Powell told BusinessNewsDaily of veterans' interest in becoming entrepreneurs.
Newly released U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that nearly 12 percent of the veterans who have left the service in the last decade are unemployed, and the grim economic climate is forcing more of them to become self-sufficient, Powell said.
Prepared for entrepreneurship
At Entrepreneur's Source, Powell works specifically with veterans interested in owning a franchise , helping them choose operations that best fit their interests and skills.
"Veterans and military individuals make great franchise owners," Powell said, noting their excellent abilities to follow systems and implement what they are trained on. "They are absolutely well-suited for each other."
Chris Hale, president of the National Veteran-Owned Business Association, said the skills veterans learn while in the service give them a leg up on being a business owner overall.
Specifically, Hale said they become accustomed to working long hours; know what it takes to be a leader, how to work under pressure and how to inspire others; and understand the importance of working as part of a team for a greater goal.
"You know what you are capable of, and you know how to push your limits," Hale said. "These are elements that speak to small business and being successful."
Nationally, one in seven veterans owns their own business, Hale said.
"They are twice as likely to own a business as a nonveteran," he said.
Choosing to go it alone
First-time business owner Cornell Irons, a 29-year veteran of the Army, is among them. He opened a Charley's Grilled Subs franchise in Reno, Nev., last year.
Ending his career as a lieutenant colonel with a master's degree in contracting, Irons said he had a number of opportunities to work for someone else when he got out of the service.
"I could have done pretty much anything I wanted, but I just felt this was the right thing to do," Irons said of his business decision. "The military really set me up well for this."
Irons began researching the possibility of opening a franchise while still in the Army, and discovered Charley's after eating at one on a military base at which he was stationed. The clincher, he said, was the quality of the meal he was served.
"What struck me was that the food was real tasty," Irons said. "You have to believe in your product."
As a way to mark Veteran's Day on Nov. 11, the National Veteran-Owned Business Association has launched the Buy Veteran Marketplace, an online site for Americans to find veteran-owned businesses in their own community. The site offers listings for thousands of veteran-owned businesses across the country.
Consumer demand for businesses owned by the nation's veterans continues to grow overall, Hale said.
"People feel a tremendous amount of debt to those that have served this country," he said.
In addition to the Buy Veteran website, Hale's organization offers a wide range of services, including startup help for would-be entrepreneurs, assistance finding the right franchise and help getting contracts with large corporations and state and federal agencies.
"We aim to create opportunities for veteran-owned businesses," Hale said.
For all that military men and women do for this country, Powell said he feels obligated to help those pursuing dreams of owning their own business.
"If it wasn't for the veterans protecting our freedom, our companies wouldn't be flourishing the way they do," Powell said.