Veterans are a foundational backbone of the American middle class. They own about 9% of small businesses, and more than 2.4 million in total. But despite these massive numbers, only about 1,000 report taking advantage of the resources available to support their entrepreneurial goals.1 We praise and encourage both service veterans and entrepreneurs, but something happens when a veteran wants to start a business. Many fail to access the support they need despite the vast resources that are currently underutilized. The most likely reason many veterans don’t make use of the resources available is simply not knowing that they exist. So to help raise awareness and visibility of small business resources for veteran entrepreneurs and business owners, we created this guide, including a thorough list of the services, grants, and educational resources. When you decide to make the risky (but rewarding) move to run your own business, you should take advantage of any help you can find. We hope this guide helps put you in the right direction. Let's get started!
Loans and Grants for Veterans
One of the most valuable resources many veterans overlook is grants. If you apply and are awarded a grant, it’s money that doesn’t have to be paid back. A grant can help you get your business off the ground or keep it running. There are many small business grants are specifically targeted at veterans or active service members. Niche grants are generally less competitive and easier to win for those who fall into the relevant category. And even as old grants are awarded, new ones become available all the time. On the other hand, loans have to be paid back, usually with interest. But some of those available for veterans and active service members will have better interest rates than other types of credit, making them a valuable resource to consider when the need arises. To help you stay up to date on what’s out there, we’ve compiled together a list of relevant grants, loans and websites that are regularly updated.
Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan
An entrepreneur that gets called to active duty risks everything they’ve worked for in building their business. The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan is designed to alleviate that risk and ensure any business that depends on the services of a military reservist that gets called into duty will have an easier time getting by in their absence. Applicants can borrow up to $2 million if they qualify, at an interest rate of no more than 4% per year. If this loan is relevant to your situation, you can apply online.
Every situation’s a little different so the loans and grants different veterans qualify for will vary based on their particular circumstances. Business USA’s Access Financing feature will help match you with the list of government grants and loans that are relevant to your business. It only takes a few minutes and will save you the trouble of navigating different federal, state, and local sites to find the same information.
Grant Watch is a website devoted to making the up-to-date listing of government, nonprofit, and corporate grants searchable. You can find some information with the free version of the website, but to get the full information on each grant listed you have to become a subscriber for $15 a week. In total, the website has a searchable list of 14,000 grants. You can hone in on grants specific to veterans, residents of your area, or any other category that applies to you.
Grants.gov is one of the main sources of grants in the country. You can search all grants currently available from the federal government, or browse based on different categories and eligibilities.
Business Opportunities for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
Many government entities, private firms, and everyday customers give priority to businesses that are veteran owned or operated. By making your military service known, you may gain new customers and business. Additionally, every business can benefit from tapping into relevant associations and joining directories that can help sent new customers their way. In this section, we’ll go through many different programs, professional associations, communities, and directories that may be helpful for veteran entrepreneurs.
Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concern Program
For many types of businesses, government contracts are a lucrative and consistent source of revenue. Since 1999, the government has set a goal of ensuring that at least 3% of all government contracts go to businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.2 If your business qualifies, you can gain a competitive edge in bidding for available projects. If you think your business might qualify, the next step is to apply for verification. You can find a step-by-step guide to applying here, as well as verification assistance if the process seems daunting.
National Veteran-Owned Business Association (NaVOBA)
NaVOBA is an association devoted to helping veteran-owned businesses find new opportunities, access available resources, and connect with the larger veteran-owned business community. Joining the association might make many new business resources available to you and increase your visibility for companies, government agencies, or consumers who prioritize working with veterans.
VeteranOwnedBusinesses.com is an online directory you can list your business on to make it easier to find for any company or consumer that prefers working with veteran-owned businesses. It’s just one more way to get your name out there and find new customers.
Educational Resources for Veteran Small Business Owners
Money and customers are nice, but knowledge is a foundational part of successful launching and growing a small business. Many programs exist specifically to help veterans with the process of transitioning from service member to business owner, so your personal and professional growth never stops.
Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans
You’ve already been through at least one bootcamp, how hard can it be to graduate from another? The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) was named one of the top ten entrepreneurship programs in the country by Inc Magazine. 3 It’s specifically designed to equip wounded veterans with the skills and contacts that will help them successfully transition. The EBV program was developed by Syracuse University, is completely free to veterans, and most of it can be completed from your home from anywhere in the United States. There is a 9-day on-campus component you’ll have to head to one of the participating universities for, but the program’s designed to be as accessible as possible. You can apply for the bootcamp at any time.
Boots to Business
Boots to Business is another free program offered to veterans interested in pursuing entrepreneurship. After taking a 2-day class at a participating military installation, you can then sign up to complete an 8-week online course that covers some of the key skills needed to start a business, like creating a business plan and acquiring startup funding. To get started, check the calendar to find a 2-day workshop at an installation close to you.
Local Veteran Business Outreach Programs
Many state chapters of the Small Business Administration offer additional resources to veterans pursuing business ownership. This can include workshops on business planning, training, coaching, and matching veterans with local mentors for personalized guidance. Unfortunately, these resources are only available in some states. If there aren’t any veteran-specific resources in your community at this time, it may still be worth checking with your local chapter of the Small Business Administration to see if there are any additional helpful resources.
Educational Programs for Veterans
Military service equips members with plenty of knowledge and skills, but in some cases you may need to go back to school to excel in your next endeavor. In that scenario, your service can pay off in helping cover the costs of the education you’re seeking.
Choosing the Right Program
One thing each veteran entrepreneur should be aware of before pursuing higher education is that many of the programs most actively marketed to veterans are low-quality for-profit programs. To find the right program for your needs you should carefully consider: If you’re going to spend the money and take the time to get a degree or certificate, you want to make sure it will pay off in the knowledge and skills you need.
Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
The VEAP, part of the GI Bill, was put into place to make education more affordable to veterans. This benefit is only available to veterans that:
- Enrolled in service between January 1, 1977, and June 30, 1985.
- Opted into the benefit while in service and made contributions.
- Completed their first period of service.
- Weren’t dishonorably discharged. 3
If you chose to participate in the program and meet the qualifications, the government will match the contribution you made at $2 for every $1 you put in, for up to a $2,700 contribution. This benefit doesn’t just apply to traditional college courses. You can put the money to any number of different educational program types, including:
- College degree and certification programs
- Technical or vocational courses
- Flight training
- Apprenticeships and on-job training
- High-tech training
- Licensing and certification testing
- Entrepreneurship training
- Entrance exams
- Correspondence courses
When you’re prepared to start using your VEAP benefits, first check to make sure that the program you’re considering is approved for VA training. If you’re currently an active duty service member, you’ll have to get approval from your base Education Services Officer. Then fill out and submit VA form 22-1990.
Post 9/11 Bill
The 1985 enrollment cutoff for VEAP benefits leaves a lot of veterans and servicemembers out. If your service has been more recent, you may instead qualify for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. For veterans that have served for at least 90 days since September 10, 2001, you may be eligible for up to 36 months of education benefits. If you were honorably discharged due to a service-related injury before the 90 days were up, you may still qualify. As with VEAP, these benefits can be applied to many types of education beyond traditional on-campus college programs (although those are also covered). Some of your options include:4 The benefit offers you plenty of flexibility to seek education opportunities while simultaneously working to get your business started or gaining some work experience in a relevant field.
Your service to the country means you’ve earned some well-deserved advantages and opportunities. These resources are out there to help veterans live the American dream that their service has helped so many others realize. It’s hard to get a business off the ground and keep it running, and every little bit of help you get could make the difference in keeping your business alive. The resources are out there, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of them! Resources:
1. https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/advocacy/393tot.pdf 2. https://www.sba.gov/sdvosb 3. http://www.inc.com/magazine/20110401/the-10-best-entrepreneurship-courses-of-2011.html 4. http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/veap.asp
Joe is a husband, father, volunteer, decorated veteran, and entrepreneur. He is the owner of Loco's Bumper Repair & Headlight Restoration, a top-rated auto repair business in Santa Barbara, California. Joe won a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq, and has also served in Kuwait, Germany, Poland, and many other international and domestic locations. In his spare time, Joe volunteers for the American Cancer Society, Wounded Warrior Project, and local events in Santa Barbara.