If you’re making the switch from the military to civvy street and are thinking about starting your own business, the good news is that there are plenty of resources available across a range of areas that can help.
Many of the skills that are required to build a career in the military are the same as those you need to run your own business. Being able to lead a team, work under pressure, adapt, be open to change and think on your feet are all requirements when entering the world of self-employment. There’s a clear overlap between life in the services and in a startup, but what resources are available to help you make that leap?
In this guide, we bring together all of the support that’s available for military veterans, including professional advice, finance options, grants, mentorship, support, training and more, to empower you to start and grow your own business. We provide details of the support available to veterans in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia, so you can find resources that are geared specifically towards you.
According to the Federation of Small Businesses’ report – A Force for Business – which was published in 2019, 340,000 (6 percent) of the UK’s small businesses are run by ex-military personnel, making entrepreneurship and self-employment a tried and tested path for British veterans.
The most popular sectors for self-employed military veterans are:
- Manufacturing (18 percent)
- Wholesale, Retail and Repair (12 percent)
- Professional, Scientific and Technical (12 percent)
- Construction (10 percent)
Despite the switch from military to startup being a common route for ex-service personnel, there is a lack of public awareness in the UK about the importance of supporting veterans in life and in business, particularly when compared to the US. However, there are still a number of training schemes, funding options and events that are available specifically to service leavers.
If you need capital to start or grow a business, there are a number of funding options out there that are designed specifically for entrepreneurs who are ex-armed forces. That includes:
X Forces could help you access funding support via the government’s Startup Loans programme. Unsecured personal loans of up to £25,000 (£11,000 average) are available at fixed interest for a period of up to five years. There’s also 12 months of free mentoring and support to help get your business idea off the ground.
The eligibility criteria are as follows:
- You must be over 18 years of age
- Both you and the business must be based in the UK
- The business has been trading for less than two years
PDF offers unsecured funding in the shape of veteran business loans, merchant cash advances and loans for veterans with bad credit.
To be eligible for the funding, your business must:
- Be registered in the UK
- Have been actively trading for a minimum of six months
- Have a monthly turnover or monthly card sale transactions of at least £5,000
- Be run by someone over 18 years of age
- Be run as a limited company or a sole trader
SME Loans is another example of a lender that provides specialist startup and small business loans for military veterans. Lending amounts range from £1,000-£500,000, with loans available to UK-based businesses that have been trading for at least six months and have a monthly turnover of at least £5,000.
Of course, being ex-military does not exclude you from applying for business loans and other sources of finance that are available from the government. Here’s more information about how to apply for a government-backed startup loan.
There are few better ways to boost your prospects as a prospective or existing business owner than to access the grants that are available to ex-military personnel.
The Royal British Legion and RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity have partnered up to provide employment grants that help military veterans gain the skills they need to start a business. Two grants are currently available:
- Licenses grant – One-off grants of up to £250 are available to help ex-military personnel find work by obtaining a sector-specific licence e.g. obtaining a security licence.
- Training, travel, accommodation and equipment grant – If you want to take a training course to acquire the skills to run your own business, this one-off grant of up to £1,000 could be available to you.
There are also local and central government grants that are available for startup and small businesses operating in specific sectors and regions which you may be eligible for. Find out more here.
Although many of those in the military already possess the characteristics and traits required to run their own businesses, they often need training to acquire the more technical skills they’re likely to need.
Help for Heroes
Help for Heroes, in partnership with X Forces, runs a free, six-day Business Experience Course to help wounded veterans decide whether self-employment is for them and teach them some of the essential skills they’ll need. The course covers topics such as:
- How to create and maintain a profitable business
- How to market a business
- How to create a budget and manage cash-flow
- Preparing for launch
RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity can organise access to training through grants and programmes that are organised by other military charities and through its knowledge of provision in every UK region.
The Unsung Hero Business Startup Programme.
The University of Wolverhampton offers The Unsung Hero Business Startup Programme. This free course teaches ex-military personnel the skills they need to start and run a business. The course is split into 2 x two-day courses over two months and five individual sessions with a business adviser. Areas covered include:
- Business Planning
- Market Research
- Sales and Networking
X Forces Enterprise
X-Forces Enterprises provides a range of free courses and workshops to help military veterans decide whether they want to pursue self-employment and what their business journey could look like. The available courses include:
- ABF Self-Employment Discovery Workshop
- ABF Startup Skills Workshop
- CTP Startup Workshop for Service Leavers
- Blind Veterans Startup Workshop
- Help for Heroes Business Experience Course (described above)
- Empowering Armed Forces Widows and Dependants through Enterprise Course
Advice, Mentorship and Support
Professional advice and support are incredibly valuable for entrepreneurs both during the setting up stage and when the business is up and running. It could make the difference between the success and failure of your business, so you would be wise to access the resources that are available to you.
The Military Coworking Hub offers virtual and physical membership to various coworking hubs on military bases located around the country. Physical membership costs just £20 per year and allows you to use the hub at your nearest base, provided that you meet the eligibility criteria.
Heropreneurs is a charity that supports entrepreneurs in the military community. It provides support packages to strengthen and develop your business proposition as well as mentoring programmes delivered by successful entrepreneurs who can provide valuable insights to reduce the risks of expensive mistakes.
The Veterans’ Gateway offers support to ex-military personnel across a broad range of areas, including self-employment, and can put you in touch with organisations that can help you take your next step.
The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Scheme provides vital advice, guidance and support for prospective entrepreneurs aged 18-30 who are working fewer than 16 hours a week and have a business idea they’d like to explore. This scheme is open to all young people, not just military veterans.