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Every year, around 5,000 military personnel transition from service in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to civilian life. One of the biggest challenges they face is finding meaningful employment, whether it’s as an employee or by choosing to join the growing ranks of the self-employed. 

One of the attractive aspects of self-employment for Australian veterans is having the opportunity to be their own boss. However, many veterans only find self-employment after becoming disillusioned with their experiences in paid civilian employment. Unfortunately, there are also a number of barriers to entry that can prevent veterans from becoming self-employed. Those barriers include a lack of finance, a lack of skills and the loss of the teamwork that some veterans so dearly miss. 

What is lacking is access to the right information and advice at the right time. Thankfully, the resources are out there, but they’re not always easy to find. That’s why we’ve brought together all the support available for Australian military veterans who want to become self-employed.   

Funding Options

Most military veterans require some form of external funding to turn their business idea into a reality or to propel it to new heights. Funding options in Australia that are specific to veteran-owned businesses are few and far between, but veteran entrepreneurs can access the range of funding options available to all startups. 

  • Startup and small business bank loans are available from banks such as ANZ and Commbank. Typically, they feature low-interest rates and no security required on loans up to $50,000. The loan repayments may also be interest-only for the first year, which makes them well-suited to early-stage companies that need all of their available capital to launch and grow. 
  • Seed and angel investors are single investors or investor groups who pool their funds together to back startups or early-stage businesses that are experiencing rapid growth. You can connect with equity investors and venture capitalists on your own or seek equity financing through veteran-focused organisations such as the Prince’s Trust Australia. It can help you connect with investors with a track record of backing veteran-owned businesses.
     
  • Instead of using cash to grow, some startups choose to exchange services and goodwill with other entrepreneurs in their communities and networks. This is called contra service swapping. Australia’s military veterans are a tight-knit group and swapping services between themselves can be a cost-effective way to grow. Once the business grows and produces a profit, the businesses you’ve been swapping with become your paid customers and service providers. 
         
  • The willingness of Australia’s military veterans to sacrifice for their country has earned them lasting gratitude. By using a crowdfunding platform such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter or OzCrowd, veteran entrepreneurs can cash in on that gratitude and raise funds for their businesses. 

Crowdfunding can be either donation-based or investment-based. In donation-based crowdfunding, you receive funding in exchange for exclusive offers and promotions and do not sacrifice any equity in your business. In investment-based crowdfunding, the investor receives a stake in your business in return for their funding. Importantly, the stakes with crowdfunding are low. If you fail to reach your funding goal, you can try again or switch to other options. 

Grants

Understandably, many entrepreneurs are interested in getting their hands on money that they don’t have to repay. Although there are no specific grants for military veterans, there are several grants that could help to get your business off the ground.

  • CSIRO Kick-Start provides matched funding to Australian startups and small businesses that are keen to partner with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in research activities. Aimed at the research and testing stage, entrepreneurs that are developing a ‘novel’ product or service can get up to $50,000 to help them develop and grow their business. 

The funding can be used to pay for the costs associated with researching, developing and testing a new product or service. Eligible businesses must:

  • Have an annual turnover of $1.5 million or less in the current and the previous two years 
  • Have been registered as a company for less than three years
  • Be registered in Australia for goods and services tax (GST)
  • The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science has created a search tool that Australian startups can use to identify state by state assistance programs that they could be eligible for. Grants that may be of particular interest to military veterans include:
  • The New Enterprise Incentive Scheme allows eligible individuals who are unemployed but have a business idea to receive government funds and become business owners. The value of the grant varies on a case-by-case basis.
  • The Export Market Development Grant offers financial assistance to aspiring and current exporters. Businesses will receive up to 50 percent of the expenses incurred on eligible export promotion activities above a threshold of $5,000, provided that the total expenses are at least $15,000.
  • The Landing Pads program provides Australian startups with a residency of up to 90 days in a coworking space in major global innovation hubs around the world. Five Landing Pads have been established in Singapore, Shanghai, San Francisco, Berlin and Tel Aviv. The value of the grant depends on the size and nature of the business that is developing. To be eligible, startups must demonstrate scalability, traction and differentiation and explain how 90 days in a Landing Pad could benefit their venture.
  • The Entrepreneurs’ Programme allows entrepreneurs to access expert advice and financial support through the Accelerating Commercialisation Grant. It provides businesses with up to 50 percent of expenditure on a project, capped at $1 million. The Entrepreneurs’ Programme also offers funding support for incubators that help startups enter global markets. New and existing incubators can apply for $13,000 to $250,000 of funding for up to two years.

Training

While most military veterans typically possess many of the character traits that are necessary to run a business, there are some veteran-specific programmes that can fill the gaps when it comes to key skills such as marketing, business finance and tax compliance.

  • The Enterprise for Veterans programme, run by the Prince’s Trust Australia, supports all entrepreneurs in the veteran community, their spouses and transitioning defence members on their journey towards launching and growing a business. The programme offers one-day workshops, four-day boot camps and six-month boot camps that are designed to develop the skills and confidence required to explore self-employment, entrepreneurship and business ownership.
  • One-Day Workshops: The workshops offer a taster of the boot camp experience and should be the first port of call for veterans and their partners who are interested in exploring self-employment. Over five hours, participants will be introduced to the tools and networks that could turn their business dreams into a reality.      
  • Four-Day Boot Camps: The aim of the boot camps is to inspire and enhance participants’ entrepreneurial skills, including problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation, digital literacy, communication and self-management. Participants do not need to have a business idea to attend the programme but they should be interested in working for themselves or working for an existing small business.
  • Six-Month Boot Camps: The six-month boot camp takes would-be entrepreneurs through the process of developing a work-ready business plan. It incorporates national accreditation and tailored academic support to teach veterans and their partners everything they’ll need to know to launch and grow their business.       
  • VetForce Australia, which is run in partnership with the veteran support organisation  Soldier On, offers training and employment opportunities in the in-demand technology and cloud industry. It focuses on delivering structured, self-paced training that teaches veterans business skills training and includes Salesforce certification. 

Salesforce is a cloud-based software company that produces customer relationship management software that’s used by businesses in Australia and around the world. Becoming Salesforce certified can open doors both in the worlds of employment and self-employment. The four-week VetForce training and certification program is followed by ongoing mentorship to support veterans in gaining employment. 

Advice, Mentorship and Support     

  • The Veterans Employment Programme, run by the Department of Defence, is designed to help ex-services personnel find employment in the private and public sector, but also to explore the opportunities for self-employment in areas where skills gaps exist. There are also a number of state-specific employment programmes for veterans. That includes
  1. Victoria: The Victoria Public Sector Veterans Employment Strategy provides online resources to support veterans find employment in the public sector.
  2. New South Wales: The New South Wales Veteran’s Employment Programme helps veterans identify employment opportunities in NSW government. It also presents a programme which assesses veteran skills and offers gap training analysis.
  3. Queensland: Queensland Veteran’s Employment Pathway showcases the skills and capabilities of former military members to hiring managers in the Queensland government. 
  4. Western Australia: The Veteran’s Employment Transition Support programme encourages veterans to consider employment within the Western Australian public sector. It has a mentor network to provide advice and support for ex-ADF members who are transitioning to civilian life.       
  • Buy Veteran is an initiative run by the Prince’s Trust Australia that champions success stories from the veteran alumni of its programmes and encourages the wider community to buy from veteran-owned businesses. The #BuyVeteran campaign is an international collaboration with the Prince’s Trust Canada and draws the attention of more than a million consumers every year. Register your business with the Buy Veteran campaign for free in just a few minutes.