Thinking about going into business for yourself? If you’re a former service member, you’re not alone. Veterans make up a strong portion of small business owners in the U.S.: roughly 6.1% (351,237) of all employer businesses, according to the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 2020 findings.
Like all aspiring entrepreneurs, former service members face hurdles in getting their ventures up and running. The good news is that there are several key programs designed to help veterans get funded, so they can get to work.
Here are some of the best resources for veteran entrepreneurs and what you need to know about qualifying for the assistance these programs offer.
Government-Backed Entrepreneur Programs
- Boots to Business. The U.S. SBA offers Boots to Business, a 2-part entrepreneurial education and training program for transitioning service members. The first part is a 2-day introductory course on business fundamentals and feasibility evaluations (analyses of projects to determine how profitable they could be and whether they’re in reach right now). Afterward, you can take the 8-week Foundations of Entrepreneurship course, which reviews the basics of creating a feasible business plan. Participants in the Boots to Business program also have a strong track record for approval when applying for SBA loans (read more below).
- Entrepreneurship Training. Another way service members and veterans can learn more about running a small business is through reimbursed courses offered by Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs). Entrepreneurship training is a fantastic way to sharpen your business skills and gain access to experts who can help you solve the early-stage challenges that come with starting up a business. SBDCs can also connect you to further resources when it comes time to seek funding, apply for permits or register your business properly.
- The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV). This nonprofit program provides experience-based and small business management training without using up any GI Bill benefits. Veterans start with a 30-day online course on the basics of business and entrepreneurship. Next is a 9-day residency at an EBV university, with courses led by accomplished entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship educators from across the nation. After graduating from residency, students receive 12 months of support through the EBV Technical Assistance Program (EBV-TAP): a network of professors, entrepreneurs and others who have offered to lend their knowledge to aspiring entrepreneurs.
- The Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program (SDVOSB). If you’re a veteran with a disability due to injury or illness incurred in or aggravated by military service and you’ve started a small business, you may qualify for the SDVOSB. Its primary purpose is to award federal contracts for small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans. To qualify, your business must align with the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) definition of a small business, be at least 51% owned by service-disabled veterans, and be managed and operated by a service-disabled veteran. The veteran also has to hold the highest position in the business.
- U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans. The programs above are all resources that can improve your odds of approval when you apply for funding, such as through a loan guaranteed by the SBA. The SBA offers a variety of different loan types for specific purposes, and these loans generally have low down payments and interest rates.
Grants and Private Equity Opportunities
- Warrior Rising®1. Warrior Rising exists to empower veterans in business. It does this by providing a full range of support services, from mentorship to funding and beyond. This nonprofit organization offers an array of Warrior Rising Small Business Grants to “vetrepreneurs.” Even if you don’t receive a grant, the organization’s Warrior Academy is often praised for being a great resource for veteran business training.
- The Second Service Foundation™. This nonprofit is heavily focused on business education for veterans and strives to pave pathways toward small business ownership for former service members. The organization hosts its annual Military Entrepreneur Challenge, which provides 3 different grants to winners of the challenge. First place is $15,000, backed by an additional $25,000 worth of pro-bono legal services. Second and third places receive $6,000 and $4,000 grants, respectively.
- Government Grants. The federal government is the largest provider of grants to entrepreneurs, with more than $500 billion in funding issued each year. Veteran-specific grants are among the many opportunities offered through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and there’s no limit to the number of grants entrepreneurs can apply for. Each grant comes with its own stipulations and applications can be time-consuming to fill out, but getting funds is well worth the effort!
- GrantWatch™. While not exclusive to veteran entrepreneurs, GrantWatch is one of the best places to search for current available grants. The site does track service member-specific grants, which makes it easy to review new and ongoing opportunities. The site updates daily and, as is the case with government grants, there’s no limit to the number you can apply for at any given time.
- Hivers and Strivers®. This angel investment group is one-of-a-kind in that it exclusively invests in veteran-backed business startups. That said, like other angel investment funds, Hivers and Strivers typically invests in high-growth startups looking for between $250,000 and $1 million. If your business idea has the potential to become a major market disruptor and you feel confident pitching to institutional investors, Hivers and Strivers is interested in the best and brightest veteran-backed startups.
Educational Resources for Entrepreneurs
- TED Talks®. Great for expanding your understanding of small business ownership.
- Bplans®. An all-encompassing resource for creating your business plan.
- How to Start a Startup. A simple video course for any eager entrepreneur.
- HBR IdeaCast®. The Harvard Business Review podcast about small businesses.
- Founders Workbench®. A set of tools geared toward small business startups.
- United States Patent and Trademark Office. Your path to protecting your idea.
- SCORE Foundation®. A network for finding business mentors and insightful experts.
- LegalZoom®. Affordable legal documents for incorporating a small business.
Make Your Entrepreneurial Dream Real
If you’re a veteran who dreams of being your own boss and running a business you’ve built from the ground up, there are no shortage of opportunities out there! With or without assistance from these programs, institutional help is always available, too.
At Navy Federal, we’ve got a wide variety of business loans and business services. As a credit union designed for military members, we’re the perfect partner to get your business off the ground. We invite you to become a Business Member today!
- Create a business plan and thoroughly review it. Every grant application and program listed above will want to see a clear plan to consider you for funding or program acceptance.
- Gather all materials that qualify you as a military veteran and, if applicable, as a service-disabled veteran. Review the requirements of each program before you apply.
- Make sure your finances are in good order if you choose to apply for funding. Learn more about what lenders look for when issuing a business loan and how you position yourself as a responsible borrower.
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This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.