Veteran-owned businesses are an important engine for economic growth in the US, but more than that, self-employment allows veterans to transition successfully into civilian life and put the skills they developed during their military careers to good use. 

According to a report by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, there are 2.52 million veteran-owned businesses in the US, representing 9 percent of all American businesses. 99.9 percent of those are classified as small businesses, so it’s vital that existing and aspiring small business owners from a military background have the tools they need to succeed. 

Fortunately, there are a growing number of funding options, mentorship programmes and training courses designed specifically for US military veterans who want to run their own businesses. 

THAT INCLUDES

Funding Options

One of the biggest fears for all entrepreneurs is a lack of capital, but this can be even more pronounced for military veterans. They have to overcome the challenge of transitioning back into civilian life while also worrying about how to finance the launch and growth of their business. However, there are a number of funding options specifically for military personnel that could help. 

SBA Veterans Advantage 7(a) Loan

This is a loan that’s made available by the Small Business Administration specifically for military veterans looking for capital to grow their small business. The loans feature longer repayment terms and potentially lower fees than might be available from other funding options. For example, there is no upfront fee for loans of under $125,000 made to qualifying veteran-owned businesses. Fees may be payable as the loan amount increases but at a discounted rate.

To be eligible for a loan, the business must be at least 51 percent owned and controlled by any of the following:

The StreetShares Foundation was set up with ex-military entrepreneurs in mind. It offers a number of lines of credit for veteran-owned businesses, including term loans, merchant cash advances and invoice finance arrangements. It also has a grant program, the Veteran Small Business Award, which gives financial support to veterans who lack the financial means to launch or grow their businesses.

Hivers and Strivers is an angel investment group that specifically funds veteran-owned startups. It invests in companies across a wide spectrum of industries and also provides ongoing support for entrepreneurs and business advice. To be eligible, you should be a graduate of one of the military academies. You can submit your small business idea on their website.

The Veterans Business Fund (VBF) was created to assist veterans who want to become small business owners or grow their businesses but do not have the necessary equity capital to qualify for a small business loan. To qualify, veterans must be able to prove that a bank loan would have been approved if there had been more equity. If approved, the loans are non-interest-bearing, making it a very cost-effective way to fund your business.

The HCC Veteran Entrepreneurship Training (VET) Program gives small business owners who have served in the US military access to expert training and hands-on entrepreneurial guidance. Importantly, it can also help military veterans secure funding by giving them access to industry-specific angel investors and funding partnerships they may not have otherwise have been able to connect with.

The Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned Small Business Program, run by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, aims to help veteran entrepreneurs secure government contracts. The federal government sets aside 3 percent of its contracting dollars for small businesses that are owned by disabled veterans every year. That makes this a great way to get cash coming into the business and boost its profitability.

To apply, you must go to your local Veterans Affairs office to get your business registered. You will then be added to the directory and contacted when contracts that are suitable for your business are available. 

Grants

There are various grants available to US ex-services personnel that can help you get your business off the ground.

To qualify for federal or government grants, or grants from non-profit organisations, you must usually be an honourably discharged veteran, a service-disabled veteran, an active member of the military participating in the military’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) or the spouse of any of the above. 

The VA Small Business Grant from the US Department of Veterans Affairs is designed to support military veterans who want to get their businesses up and running. Like any other grant, the money you receive does not have to be repaid, but strict requirements will have to be met by your business. Read the guidelines for the grant carefully to check that you qualify before you apply.

The Vocational Readiness and Employment (VR&E) Program for Disabled Vets is another grant that’s overseen by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The amount of funding you can access depends on the nature and severity of your disability. Grant money can be used to purchase inventory, business supplies and essential equipment or pay the licensing fees required to start a new business. Applicants must submit a business plan to be considered for funding. 

Even if you don’t qualify for funding, you can still benefit from the other services the VR&E program provides. That includes:

  • Career Support
  • Counselling
  • Job Training
  • Skills Coaching
  • Resume Writing

Grantwatch is an online resource that provides information on the government grants that are available to a wide range of businesses, including grants for veterans. It currently has the details of more than 100 grants that are available to ex-military personnel across the US. As well as veteran-run enterprises, businesses that work specifically with veterans can also apply.

Although the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grant is not specifically aimed at veteran-owned businesses, businesses owned by ex-military personnel benefit from SBIR grants to the tune of nearly $90 million a year. That makes it a resource well worth exploring if your business is eligible. To apply, your small business must have a focus on scientific research and be able to meet the specific objectives of the grant. You should also be able to prove that your project has commercial potential. 

Growth Grants from the National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE) are available to all qualifying entrepreneurs as well as veterans. The grants total no more than $4,000 but that could be just what you need to pay for the advertising, equipment, training, hiring or more that your business needs.

You must become a member of the National Association for the Self-Employed to apply and include a business plan with your application. 

 

Training

Applying for grants or funding only makes sense if you have a viable business idea and the knowledge to execute it. That’s why resources that teach veterans how to run a successful business are so valuable. 

The Veteran Business Outreach Center Program, funded by the Small Business Administration, provides business owners with training, mentoring and counselling through 15 locations across the US. The centers provide access to training courses in areas such as business management and market research, as well as programs that equip potential business owners with the tools they need to turn their vision into reality. A Veteran Business Outreach Center should be your first stop if you have one in the vicinity. 

The fantastic Boots to Business training program is free for veterans who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs. It is funded by the Small Business Administration and delivered through military installations, Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers and Veterans Business Outreach Centers in locations across the US.

The course begins with a two-day, in-person event. Participants can then enrol on multiple online courses over an eight week period that cover the basics of business ownership. As well as veterans and their spouses, this course is also available to those on active duty who are transitioning out of the military.

The Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans (EBV) is an intensive training course for veterans and their families that teaches them everything they need to know to run their own business. The program is free for post-9/11 veterans. 

The course is delivered in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Self-Study – This introductory part of the course is delivered online.
  • Phase 2: Nine-Day Residency – You’ll attend a series of intense workshops that are led by successful entrepreneurs and hosted at one of eight partner universities across the country. 
  • Phase 3: Ongoing Support –  You’ll receive a year of mentorship and support from experts associated with the EBV.

Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) is a three-phase entrepreneurship course designed specifically for female veterans which is run by the Institute for Veterans and Military Veterans at Syracuse University. The cost of the program, lodging and all meals during the residency stage of the course is funded by the SBA. 

Much like the EBV above, the course is split into three phases:

  • Phase 1: A 15-day online course
  • Phase 2: A three-day entrepreneurship training event
  • Phase 3: Ongoing mentorship, training and support for graduates while they launch or grow their businesses

Bunker Labs is an independent company that offers a range of funded training courses that provide support for military veterans at different stages of starting and growing a business.

The following courses are available in 28 locations across the US:

  • Launch Lab Online: This is the first step for active duty and military veterans who have a business idea and want to start the next chapter in their lives. 
  • Veterans in Residence: Veterans who are ready to launch their new businesses can access this startup incubator and leadership program. The program gives veterans and military families access to business support, workspace and entrepreneur communities over six months. 
  • CEOCircle: Businesses that are experiencing rapid growth and traction can continue their journey with Bunker Labs through the CEOCircle program. It provides the support business owners need for future success.

The Veteran Institute for Procurement (VIP) is an entrepreneurship training company that teaches veteran entrepreneurs how to win and deliver government contracts. This course is only suitable for veterans who already own and run a business. It offers three main training programmes that are delivered in person, four times a year. Each course consists of 27 hours of training delivered over three days and is available at no cost to the participant (apart from travel to the event).

The courses include:

  • VIP Start: For small businesses that want to become procurement-ready
  • VIP Grow: For businesses that want to expand to the federal level
  • VIP International: For companies that are ready to start pursuing international contracting opportunities 
  • Patriot Boot Camp (PBC) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that provides a range of services and resources to help active-duty military, veterans and their spouses become entrepreneurs. At its core is an intensive, three-day technology entrepreneurship boot camp that culminates in a pitch practice competition to help attendees secure investment. The program runs twice a year in locations across the US and accepts 50 startup founders per program.

Dog Tag Inc. (DTI) is a five-month-long, in-person business program offered by Georgetown University. The program seeks to give veterans with service-connected disabilities, military spouses and caregivers a bridge to a productive civilian life in the form of self-employment. Upon completion of the program, graduates receive a Certificate in Business Administration and are ready to re-enter the world of work or to set up on their own.  

Advice, Mentorship and Support

There are also a number of other useful resources that do not fit into the previous categories but still provide valuable assistance for military veterans who want to start or grow a business. 

The Veterans Franchise Transition Initiative is a program that is committed to helping veterans become franchise owners. It provides a toolkit that includes a directory with over 650 franchise businesses that offer significant discounts to ex-military personnel and their spouses. It also offers training resources that are available to veterans who want to learn about franchising before they take the next step.

  • Access to networking events with other members of the organisation
  • Access to events and conferences that are run to help you build better businesses
  • Immediate notification of any changes that affect businesses in the Veteran-Owned Small Businesses or Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses programs.

American Corporate Partners (ACP) is a non-profit organisation that is dedicated to connecting military veterans with successful mentors who can help them navigate their journey into employment or entrepreneurship successfully. You’ll receive a handpicked mentor who has a relevant background and can give you the advice to propel your career in the right direction. 

The National Veteran Small Business Coalition (NVSBC) is an organisation that’s made up of veteran-owned small businesses that are interested in or involved in government contracting. There is a membership fee to join the NVSBC but it can provide significant benefits, including:

  • Access to networking events with other members of the organisation
  • Access to events and conferences that are run to help you build better businesses
  • Immediate notification of any changes that affect businesses in the Veteran-Owned Small Businesses or Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses programs.

The Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP) is a resource created by the US Department of Veteran Affairs to help veterans who want to start their own businesses find the support that’s available to them. Although it contains many of the same resources as this guide, it may also help you find local opportunities that we’ve not been able to list.