Many veterans transitioning back into civilian life consider starting a business. Whether veterans are pondering a specific concept for a small business or are just toying around with the thought of working for solo, there are plenty of resources for veterans to help. This guide is meant to help vets looking to start their own business. It offers business resources, funding possibilities, and covers a lot of frequently asked questions.
Veteran small business resources
To find veteran small business resources, start by looking at the national websites for these organizations, and then locate the nearest branch. Any of the following resources for entrepreneurs can provide a starting point.
Small Business Administration (SBA)
Veterans looking to start a small business should begin with the Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) Program. As part of the Office of Veterans Business Development initiative, this program oversees the VBOCs across the United States and features concept assessments, business plan workshops, mentorship and training for veterans.
There are several SBA veteran entrepreneurship training programs available, including some that are specific to women veterans, service-disabled veterans, and spouses of veterans who want to start or grow a small business. These include:
Service-Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program
The SDVETP program is open to service-disabled veteran entrepreneurs who want to start a business or already own a small business.
Boots to Business
As part of the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP), this course offers an overview of entrepreneurship and the fundamentals of owning a business. Boots to Business (B2B) is open to transitioning service members, including National Guard and Reserve, and spouses. The foundational course, “Introduction to Entrepreneurship,” introduces the basics of launching a business through a two-day course. Topics include coming up with a solid business concept, creating a business plan, finding resources and funding. To register, contact a military installation’s transition office.
Boots to Business Reboot (B2BR) is open to veterans of all eras, including the National Guard and Reserve, and their spouses, but is not held on a military installation.
Another free course, B2B Revenue Readiness, is presented online through a partnership with Mississippi State University. Prerequisites for this course are Boots to Business or Reboot.
Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program
Presented by the LiftFund Women’s Business Center and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University’s Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE), these programs help train women veterans, women service members and women spouses of service members and veterans to start or grow a business. The V-WISE program is composed of three parts: a 15-day online course, three days of entrepreneurship training and ongoing mentorship, and training and support. The LiftFund is a nonprofit small business lender that helps provide technical and soft skill training, individualized consultations for female entrepreneurs, accelerator programs and connections to small business resources.
Small Business Development Centers
Veterans looking to start a small business can head to their nearest SBDC to receive no-cost business advice and low-cost training on everything from business plans and marketing to accessing capital and regulatory compliance.
VETRN is an SBA-funded organization that is related to the aforementioned Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) Program. When a veteran small business owner completes the VBOC program, has been in business for over a year, and is ready to scale, the VETRN program becomes a very viable and beneficial option. The program is free for veterans and their family members, and is the only SBA-funded program in the US that provides training, resources, and mentorship for veteran business owners who are ready for the next stage of growth in their business.
Business mentors are one of the greatest tools available to veterans wanting to start a small business and SCORE has more than 10,000 of them. As the nation’s largest network of volunteer business experts, SCORE is an invaluable resource with 30 chapters across the country. Since 1964, this resource partner of the Small Business Administration provides workshops, educational resources and mentoring to over 11 million entrepreneurs, including veterans.
Looking for small business strategies and tips? SCORE offers free webinars—live and recorded—as well as courses on demand. Consider narrowing down the search by business stage, topic, industry and more.
U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
The Veteran Entrepreneur Portal was designed to help veteran entrepreneurs access relevant and useful information on all things related to starting or growing a business. For vets who are just getting started in their quest to launch a small business, there’s an interactive tool that will help navigate various topics. There is also a section listing franchising opportunities for Veterans, training programs, a tool to help identify financing resources for start-ups and much more.
This national not-for-profit aims to inspire veterans and their spouses to start their own business. Bunker Labs‘ programs include concept development, training, networking, investing, funding and more. Support is provided via a three-part journey:
- Launch Lab Online: Entrepreneurs can use this gamified, interactive platform at their own pace to walk through a four-mission course; knowing yourself, knowing the customer, product/market fit and making money.
- WeWork Veterans in Residence: As part of the incubation phase, this initiative provides space, services, business mentorship, and community to help entrepreneurs “find their tribe and create their life’s work.” Features of the program include workspace for six months, front-desk support, discounts on operational software, lounge and meeting spaces, access to more than 268 professionals around the globe and monthly professional and social events.
- CEOcircle: Once a business moves from the start-up phase into growth, entrepreneurs can attend these invitation-only monthly meetings to access resources, networks and mentors if they’ve shown higher level growth and traction.
Join fellow veterans and Active, Guard and Reserve military as they explore entrepreneurship in this free seven-week program. Designed and facilitated by veterans who are also experienced entrepreneurs, VetToCEO‘s course structure is based on the military planning model.
Each weekly module is presented in a two-hour live web program during evening hours and complemented by a self-paced module that is completed in advance. Objectives include constructing a business model, collaborating with other veterans, developing a funding strategy and ongoing mentoring and support.
Patriot Boot Camp
Founded in 2012, this nonprofit provides active duty service members, veterans and their spouses with educational programming, mentors and a community of experts and peers to help them conceptualize and start their businesses and build the next generation of high-growth technology companies. Patriot Boot Camp’s core program is a three-day boot camp intensive modeled after the Techstars accelerator. Day 1 is focused on education. Day 2 is filled with one-on-one mentor sessions with leaders from around the world. Day 3 provides pitch practice.
Some veterans may prefer to buy into a franchise system with a proven blueprint for success. Franchising still allows vets to be their own boss, but they follow a successful business model rather than start from scratch with an idea. The VetFran website has an extensive list of resources for veterans interested in franchising, from downloadable guides and self-assessments to a video library and a list of franchise systems offering discounts to veterans.
Small business grants, loans, and other financing
Getting capital to start a business is one of the biggest obstacles for entrepreneurs. But veterans have access to several funding programs to help them launch and grow their business.
Small Business Administration
The SBA has several veteran-specific funding programs.
- Lender Match: This free online referral tool connects small businesses with participating SBA-approved lenders.
- SBA Express Loans: With a loan or line of credit up to $350,000, these financing options have an accelerated turnaround time for review.
- Veteran Fee Relief: If vets apply for an SBA Express Loan, the upfront guaranty fees are waived for veterans and military spouses under the 2015 Veteran’s Entrepreneurship Act.
Founded by military veterans, StreetShares provides fair and honest funding options to veterans, including business loans, lines of credit and account receivables financing for the government contract community.
Hivers & Strivers
This angel investment group is specifically geared to support start-ups founded and run by graduates of the U.S. military academies.
Founded by a decorated Green Beret, this nonprofit helps veteran entrepreneurs with partnerships, mentoring and financial assistance. Funding support for launch or start-up costs may come through Warrior Rising grants or loans, assistance with the SBA loan process, introductions to investors or help to establish a relationship with a banker for a term loan or line of credit.
“Funding Options for Veteran Entrepreneurs” is a recorded webinar that addresses why veterans have trouble getting capital; when entrepreneurs need to get funding; what they can do to improve their chances; how veterans should gather the needed information; funding sources and where to find them.
Frequently asked questions
1. Does the Veterans Administration offer grants or loans to veterans who want to start their own business?
No, but there are resources on the VA website to help vets find funding and the SBA has Lender Match to help veterans connect with lenders, as well as other programs that offer special consideration for veterans, including the Veterans Fee Relief program and the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, the latter of which provides loans to cover operating expenses in the event that an essential employee is called to active duty in the National Guard or Reserves.
2. Is there a program to help veteran-owned small businesses and service-disabled veterans the opportunity to compete for VA set-asides?
Yes. The Veterans First Contracting Program helps veterans get verified through a four-step process that includes intake, assessment, federal review, and a decision. This program helps ensure that government contracts are awarded without competition to a veteran-owned business.
3. What is crowdfunding and can I use it to launch my business?
The short answer is that crowdfunding is raising money from the public. Typically, crowdfunding is used to raise funds for a project or business through lots of small individual donations. For example, vets may get 1,000 people to donate $10 each through a link to raise $10,000. There are countless platforms to consider but be sure to research each. Some take considerable fees, others have stricter policies about what kind of businesses can and can’t raise money for. It may be helpful to brush up on some of the latest statistics on crowdfunding first. There are some crowdfunding sites that have specific campaign programs to help veterans. There are countless crowdfunding sites that have helped veterans fund their business, including YouHelp.com and Fundable.com.
4. Are their programs to help veteran-owned businesses land government contracts?
Yes. The Veteran Federal Procurement Entrepreneurship Training Program helps veterans start or grow not only in the federal marketplace but also in the international procurement marketplace. VFPETP offers a three-day certification program to train veteran-owned businesses to win government contracts through best practices. VIP START is for companies just entering government contracting. VIP GROW is for companies expanding within government contracting. VIP INTERNATIONAL is for businesses that export or have federal contracts performing outside the U.S.
5. What are the criteria to be considered “veteran-owned” for business certification?
The veteran(s) must have 51% ownership and the applicant must share in all risk and profits equal to their ownership interest.
How to get started
Whether veterans have an idea or are still trying to figure out what kind of business to start, there are some basic first steps on the road to entrepreneurship.
Step 1: Determine the business.
Not set on a concept? Ask yourself these questions: What am I interested in? What am I good at? What need could I fill? What resources do I have?
Step 2: Research the business idea.
Once a vet has developed an idea for a business, he or she needs to do some digging to determine if there’s a market for it. That means looking for not only potential customers but also competitive businesses that are already operating in the area. The SBA has a lot of valuable information to help with market research and competitive analysis.
Step 3: Write a business plan.
Although the idea of writing a detailed comprehensive plan may feel daunting, it’s absolutely necessary—especially when it comes to funding. Most lenders and investors will request to see a business plan to ensure the idea has the potential to be profitable. Most traditional business plans include the same general components highlighted below.
A. Executive summary: This will include the mission statement, general company information about employees, location and leadership, the type of products or services that will be offered, growth plans and financial information, the latter two which will be necessary if funding is needed.
B. Company overview: This is more detailed than what was mentioned in the executive summary. Here vets must go into detail about their target market, what problems the products or services solve, any experts on the team and what makes this attractive to customers (i.e., value proposition).
C. Market analysis: This section will reflect all the research done on the target market, industry description and outlook, current trends in the market and what the competition does well and what the new owner plans do better.
D. Business organization and management: How will the business be structured (i.e., sole proprietor vs. partnership vs. s corporation vs. LLC.)? Will it have a board of directors? What is the experience of the leadership team? Who will own the company? What positions will you need to hire for?
E. Product development plan: Include the details of the products or services. If the core product is still in the idea stage, share a timeline of when the prototype or inventory will be ready. Discuss product development research and goals and intellectual property. Regarding sourcing and fulfillment, include information on vendors contributing products or services to the business, as well as how the company will receive goods and how often it needs fulfillment.
F. Marketing and sales plan: Will you market the products or services with a guarantee and warranty? How will the business be promoted? What plans are in place for packaging the product? Will you advertise on social media, in print media or on broadcast media? What will public relations efforts look like? It’s important to detail the sales force and selling strategies. How many salespeople are needed? Who will train them? Will the team be purchasing leads or cold-calling prospects? Detail the sales funnel of the business.
G. Financial plan and projections: Financial data is one of the most crucial components of a business plan. Depending on what stage of business a vet is in, he or she will need to provide information on income, cash flow, debt obligations, accounts receivable and payable, and balance sheets. If a vet hasn’t launched a business yet, the financial projections will be determined by research and analysis of the competition and the industry in general. Financial forecasts might include projected income, capital expenditure budgets, and cash flow forecasts, among others, for the first year of business, but you’ll also want to include a longer outlook of, say, three to five years.
If you plan to ask for funding, the request will need to highlight how much funding is needed now, how much is needed down the road, and how the funds will be used (e.g., to purchase equipment, to pay franchising feeds, to acquire an existing business, etc.). Consider including charts and graphs to better illustrate the business’s financial needs.
Need help in creating a financial plan or business plan? The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) is an award-winning initiative to help train veterans and their families in entrepreneurship and small business management. In addition, SCORE offers a multitude of resources for veteran entrepreneurs in person at a local Veterans Business Outreach Center or online through its Veteran Entrepreneur Portal.
H. Appendix: The appendix is sort of a catch-all for supporting information. These pieces might include permits, mock-ups of products or photos of prototypes, legal documents or other contracts. Vets can also include their own resume and any experts on the team, including management. Start the appendix with a table of contents that reflects the overall business plan, indicating to which sections the supplemental pieces correspond.
It might be helpful to review some successful business plan samples. SBDCNet offers an alphabetized collection of sample business plans by type of business.
Step 4: Register your business.
Depending on the type of business and a vet’s address, he or she will have multiple tasks, just as any new entrepreneur does.
First, you’ll need to decide on a name for the business that reflects the products or services. Try not to pick something so vague that no one can figure out (even in the most general sense) what you sell. Don’t fall in love with something until making sure that the name isn’t already being used.
Next, veterans need to decide on their business’s legal structure in order to get a federal tax ID. The federal tax ID is called an Employer Identification Number (EIN) and it’s needed to pay taxes, open a bank account and apply for business permits and licenses. (Vets may also need to get a state tax ID number, but you’ll need to check with your state’s government to find out if it’s required.) You’ll probably want to seek advice from a tax professional to decide what type of business entity best suits your current and future needs. That’s because criteria for evaluation can include tax implications, legal liability, record-keeping, and future needs. The most common forms of business entities include sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or limited liability company (LLC).
Once a veteran has a solid name that is available and the legal structure, he or she can register the business with the state.
Finally, veterans need to get any licenses, permits or certifications required for the industry and jurisdiction. To find out which ones you’ll need, start with this license and permit checklist.