Many veterans choose to go into business for themselves after leaving the armed forces. In fact, about 5.9 percent of all businesses are veteran-owned, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These businesses make up an estimated $947.7 billion in receipts and 3.9 million employees.
While starting a business has its challenges, former service members have one benefit other entrepreneurs don’t: the veteran community. There are countless resources available for veteran business owners, from informative guides to startup funding to networking opportunities. Here are several resources veterans can use to get their businesses up and running.
To be considered a veteran-owned small business in the United States, your business must meet the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) small business requirements and be at least 51 percent owned, operated and controlled by a veteran. The veteran-owned small business designation is helpful for securing federal contracts.
To apply for a veteran-owned business designation, you need to request your military records by filling out Department of Defense Form 214 (DD 214), which proves you have retired, separated or been discharged from active duty. You can then submit a verification application to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Some veteran-owned small businesses can qualify for the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business program. The federal government has set a goal to award at least 3 percent of all federal contracts to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. To earn this designation, a service-disabled veteran must be in charge of the workflow of the business. Having a service-connected disability means a veteran’s medical condition was caused by active duty work.
According to data from the SBA, there are 2.4 million veteran-owned firms in the United States. Here are eight national veteran-focused agencies and organizations that can help you launch your business.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers resources and advice for post-military life, but the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal is a particularly useful tool for veterans who aspire to be business owners. Here, you can find step-by-step guidance on starting a business, including access to financing, government contracting information and other veteran initiatives.
The SBA is often the first stop for any aspiring or current entrepreneur who’s looking for information on all things small business. Like the VA’s portal, the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development houses everything you need to know about special programs and initiatives designed to help veterans. According to the department’s website, the mission of the Office of Veterans Business Development is to “provide veterans, service members, National Guard and Reserve members, military spouses, and family members with programs and services to start, grow and expand their small business.”
One of the specific veteran programs the SBA offers is called Boots to Business, which is an education and training program that’s part of the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP). This program connects veterans with information on business ownership fundamentals and foundational courses.
If your business needs an investor, look no further than Hivers & Strivers. This angel investment group offers early-stage support for startups founded and run by graduates of U.S. military academies. According to its website, most of the group’s investors have served in the military themselves and are now successful executives. A typical Hivers & Strivers investment round is $250,000 to $1 million, although larger deals are considered.
This nonprofit pairs military veterans with corporate leaders to aid the transition back to civilian life. Although it’s geared more toward veterans who want to pursue a professional career (rather than those who are looking to start a business), American Corporate Partners’ (ACP) mentorship program can be incredibly useful to aspiring entrepreneurs. Air Force veteran Jason McClaren, an entrepreneur and co-founder of the nonprofit Go Heroes Inc., cites ACP as his “most useful resource in learning the business world and networking outside of the classroom.”
Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) is an entrepreneurship training program geared toward women service members and female spouses and partners of military members. Funded in part by the SBA and operated by Syracuse University, V-WISE’s three-phase program consists of a 15-day online course, a three-day in-person training event, and ongoing mentorship and support for program graduates as they grow their businesses.
bUSA is a database for veterans to find up-to-date local, state and federal tools to start their own businesses. It contains resources to help veterans secure funding, as well as the information they need to flourish as business owners. Insurance, grants, business loans and counseling are offered exclusively to service members.
Bunker Labs is a network of veteran entrepreneurs who help fellow vets launch their own businesses. The community provides programs and courses for veterans and military spouses to find success through entrepreneurship. Founded in 2014, Bunker Labs helps connect former service members with the proper resources and professional networks needed to start a company.
Patriot Boot Camp is a nonprofit organization that helps active-duty service members, veterans and their spouses start their entrepreneurial journeys. Through resources like mentorship, educational programming, training and networking opportunities, those who are part of Patriot Boot Camp can launch their businesses with the right support.
Check out Facebook’s hub for military veterans and their families for help with networking (nicknamed “VetWorking”), marketing tools, invoicing and more.
During her time as a military intelligence sergeant for the Army, Phyllis Newhouse learned a lot about leadership, resilience and cybersecurity, which later became the basis for her business, Xtreme Solutions Inc. Her IT services and solutions company helps clients become more innovative and efficient by applying the latest information technologies to their security vulnerabilities.
After serving in the Navy, Beth Graeme quickly realized that entrepreneurship was the best way to earn a living and be there to care for her children while her husband was in Afghanistan. She left a contracting job and launched Grambo Creative, now known as Beth Graeme Photography LLC, as a solo venture in 2012. She has expanded her brand from strictly real estate to portraiture and weddings.
Whatever your passion, these inspiring veterans are proof that transitioning from the military back into civilian life can lead to a successful journey as an entrepreneur. That path can be made even easier by leveraging the many resources available to veterans and the tight-knit community they’ve helped cultivate.
“The strength and power of veteran entrepreneurs come from other veteran entrepreneurs,” said Wes O’Donnell, an Army and Air Force veteran and founder of Warrior Lodge Media Group. “Unlike most highly competitive entrepreneurial environments, veteran entrepreneurs share information much more easily. I’ve helped … [veterans] around the country … simply because, as former service members, we belong to a very small, select group of American citizens.”
Connecting with a community that understands your unique struggles can do wonders for you as an entrepreneur. From networking opportunities to educational programs to startup funding, these veteran resources can get you started on the right foot. Millions of veterans have started successful small businesses in a variety of industries, and many of them got there by building relationships within their communities and using the many tools available to former service members.
Sammi Caramela and Simone Johnson contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.