Although Canada doesn’t track the number of military veterans who choose entrepreneurship, it is a common path many take when adjusting back into civilian life. In the US, veterans are 45 percent more likely to own a business than non-veterans, and estimates suggest that preference for self-employment among military veterans is replicated north of the border.
Every year, about 5,000 people leave the Canadian armed forces. With an average age of 41, they are young enough to have decades of working life ahead of them and are bristling with many of the same traits, such as discipline and resilience, that are prerequisites for running a business.
That, combined with the disconnect from the civilian workforce and the disadvantage of trying to break into existing professional networks, makes self-employment the natural choice for many veterans, but they still need a little help. These are the funding options, grants, training and mentorships programs they can turn to.
Most small businesses need external funding to be able to open their doors and grow. But where will that funding come from and what funding options are available specifically to military veterans?
- The Canada Small Business Financing Program is not a bad place to start if you want to explore your funding options. Small businesses and startups operating for-profit with gross annual revenues of $10 million or less are eligible. You should approach your bank with your business plan. They will discuss your needs with you and make a decision on the loan. The funds will be disbursed by the bank and the loan will be registered with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.
Businesses can borrow up to $1 million to finance:
- Land or buildings used for commercial purposes
- Commercial vehicles
- Machinery and equipment
- The eligible costs of buying a franchise
- Software and computer equipment
The loan cannot be used to buy inventory or goodwill, to pay franchise fees, to supplement working capital or to fund research and development.
- Futurpreneur provides up to $60,000 in financing to military veterans who are starting a business. You can also participate in their mentorship program to help you launch your startup. You must be aged between 18-39 and ready to launch a business to qualify. Alternatively, if you run a business while in full-time employment, you could qualify for a collateral-free loan of $15,000 and support from more than 3,000 volunteer mentors.
If you need capital to get your business idea off the ground, grants for military veterans can help you take the next step without the burden of debt.
- Grantwatch Canada is an online directory that provides details of the grants that are available to a range of non-profit organisations and businesses, including those that are run by ex-military personnel. By clicking on each directory listing, you’ll be able to read more about the grant, the eligibility criteria and how you can apply. As well as veteran-run enterprises, organisations that work with veterans can apply for many of the grants.
- YouHelp is a crowdfunding platform that veterans can use to raise money for their startup while they’re in the process of applying for grants. You can use your grant application or part of your business plan as the cornerstone of your campaign to explain what you plan to do and why. Prospective donors can then view your campaign page and make contributions.
You can use YouHelp to raise money for:
- Small Businesses
- Personal and Individual Needs
- This resource from the Government of Canada allows you to filter through a comprehensive list of grants and federal programs that are available to all kinds of businesses, including those owned by veterans. You can also filter the grants and financing information by industry to find the assistance that’s available in your sector. Searching for the grants available at a provincial level could help you uncover a potential source of funding that’s not covered in this guide.
Getting government grants can be tough as there can be strong competition and the criteria your business has to meet is often stringent. Generally, to apply for federal and provincial grants, you will need to provide:
- A detailed project description
- A detailed work plan with full costs
- An explanation of the benefits of your project
- Details of the relevant experience you have
Although many of the skills and traits that ex-servicemen and women possess are well-suited to business ownership, there are also more specific skills that those who want to start a business should learn.
- Operation Entrepreneur from the Prince’s Trust is a program that gives military veterans the help they need to start their own business. It offers free one-day workshops that serve as an introduction to entrepreneurship and provides examples of ways military skills can be transferred to business ownership. It also offers a more intensive, week-long boot camp where aspiring entrepreneurs can learn the basics of launching, running and growing a business and benefit from networking time with other entrepreneurial veterans.
There are 20+ free, one-day workshops on military bases across Canada and boot camps are held on four university campuses each summer.
- The Legion Military Skills Conversion Program is designed to advance and accelerate the civilian careers of former and current reserve and regular Canadian military members. It does that via a three-pronged approach:
- Education Credentials: After an assessment of your knowledge and skills, you can be awarded credits or blocked credits for advanced placement towards certificate, diploma and degree programs.
- Entrepreneurial Training: Every year, veteran entrepreneurs can attend the Legion Lions’ Lair, where they are given the chance to learn up to date business practices and receive one-on-one mentorship to build a business plan. After completing a series of workshops, participants will pitch their business plan to a panel of judges and potentially receive investment. Workshops are run one evening a week from January to February each year and veterans can attend online via Skype or in-person at the BCIT Burnaby Campus.
- Job Seeking Assistance: Expert assistance is also available to prepare veterans and help them find a suitable role in the civilian jobs market.
- Helmets to Hardhats offers apprenticeship opportunities in the trades to veterans and for anyone who is currently serving but in the process of transitioning to a civilian career. The trades are a very popular and potentially lucrative route into self-employment for Canadian veterans. Depending on your existing experience, the apprenticeship can be shortened and even bypassed entirely to fast-track the process. There are 14 trades where full apprenticeship training is available.
- Coding for Veterans is an intensive training program that’s designed to equip Canadian military veterans with the skills they need to enter and succeed in a career in computer coding, cybersecurity or data analytics. Classes are taught in person or online and programs are available for all skill levels and experience.
Advice, Mentorship and Support
As a forces veteran and small business owner, there are certain networks and programs you can access that could help to give your business a competitive edge.
- The Canadian Veteran Business Directory, run by Operation Entrepreneur, is Canada’s most comprehensive list of veteran-owned businesses. The directory is searchable by province and industry, making it an easy way for patriotic Canadians to support veterans and their families in their new lives.
Each year the Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur runs its #BuyVeteranCA campaign, which draws the attention of 1.1 million Canadians and encourages people to buy from businesses listed in the directory. Listing with the directory is free and open to all current and former members of the Canadian military and their families.
- The Soldiers to Leaders program connects veterans and those who are looking to start a career outside of the military with mentors in the field, vocation or industry they want to enter. The mentors are experts in their industries and have insight into the training you’ll need and how you can get started, whether it’s as an employee or running your own business. Even if they don’t currently have a suitable mentor on their books, Soldiers to Leaders will find one for you.