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Veteran-owned businesses are an important engine of economic growth. New research from Experian has found that veterans tend to own and operate business with a larger employee base, and veteran-owned businesses have better longevity and sustainability than non veteran-owned business. (Experian analyzed and compared the credit data of veteran-owned businesses and non-veteran-owned businesses from 2015 through July 2019.)
Nearly 25% of veterans express interest in starting a business. That’s the good news. The bad news is entrepreneurship among younger veterans is on the decline. A report by Bunker Labs suggests one way to foster veteran entrepreneurship is through an “ecosystem” approach: “Taking an ecosystem approach to facilitating entrepreneurship requires ensuring that there is relationship density, strong network effects, and connected resources for entrepreneurs.”
Fortunately, there are a growing number of free programs designed to help veteran entrepreneurs tap into ecosystems that can help them thrive. Here are 11 of these programs:
1. Boots to Business
Boots to Business (B2B) is an entrepreneurial education and training program offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) as part of the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP). The course provides an overview of entrepreneurship and applicable business ownership fundamentals. It begins with a two-day “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” course, and after completing that course, participants may further their study through the B2B Revenue Readiness online course, delivered through a partnership with Mississippi State University.
Who qualifies: Active duty service members (including National Guard and Reserve), veterans of all eras, and their spouses.
Learn more: Visit SBAvets.force.com. To register, contact the Transition Service Manager (TSM) on your military installation.
This one or two day in-person course is offered off installation and provides participants with an overview of business fundamentals, while introducing techniques for evaluating the feasibility of business concepts. The course covers a range of entrepreneurial business concepts and provides resources for accessing startup capital, contracting opportunities, and more.
Who qualifies: Veterans of all eras, including National Guard and Reserve members, and spouses.
Learn more: Review the class schedule and register at SBAvets.force.com.
VETRN trains veteran small business owners and family members, free of charge, on how to successfully grow their own small businesses. This executive MBA program is based on the award-winning “StreetWise MBA,” which is taught in over 70 cities across the United States. VETRN has an exclusive contract to teach this management training program to veteran cohorts. Veterans accepted into the program receive a mentor on Day One and have access to a substantial professional resource network.
Who qualifies: In order to be accepted into the VETRN program, veteran small business owners must have been in business for one or more years, have at least one employee, and have annual revenues of $75,000 or greater.
Learn more: Visit Vetrn.org
One out of seven franchise businesses is owned and operated by veterans of the U.S. military. VetFran is a strategic initiative of the International Franchise Association (IFA) and includes over 600 IFA member companies that offer financial incentives, education, and support to veterans interested in franchise ownership and/or a career path in franchising. Navy Federal Credit Union is one such partner, providing startup capital for veterans who are buying franchises, as well as additional capital for franchise expansion.
Who qualifies: Veterans and their family members can use the extensive toolkit on the VetFran website to explore franchising, learn about discounts, and find franchise opportunities.
Learn more: Visit VetFran.org.
5. Veteran Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs)
In partnership with the SBA, the Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) Program is designed to provide entrepreneurial development services, such as business training, counseling, and resource partner referrals. Services include pre-business plan workshops, concept assessments, business plan preparation, entrepreneurial training, mentorships, and more. There are 22 organizations participating in this cooperative agreement and serving as VBOCs.
Who qualifies: Transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard and Reserve members, and military spouses interested in starting or growing a small business.
Learn more: Visit the VBOC webpage on the SBA website.
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6. Veteran Institute for Procurement
This program provides veteran-owned business executives with comprehensive instruction on how to accelerate their federal government contracting business skills. It offers three programs for veteran-owned small businesses:
- VIP START—For businesses that want to do business with the federal government.
- VIP GROW—For businesses that want to increase their federal government contracting opportunities.
- VIP INTERNATIONAL—For businesses that want to enter and/or expand their contracting opportunities overseas.
The three-day, in-residence training is offered at no cost to participants (other than travel to the event).
Who qualifies: Service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses and veteran-owned small businesses.
Learn more: Veteran Institute for Procurement
7. Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV)
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) offers small business management training programs for post-9/11 veterans and their family members. It includes three programs:
- EBV—Designed for businesses in the early-growth stage; includes an online course, a 9-day residency program, and a year of mentorship and support.
- EBV-F—Offers entrepreneurship training with a focus on family issues, caregiver issues, and work-life balance issues related to being a business owner.
- EBV Accelerate—For veterans who run successful businesses; provides tools and coaching to help take a business to the next level.
There is no cost to participate in these programs; however, EBV Accelerate participants must cover travel costs to the residency program.
Who qualifies: EBV applicants must have separated from service after 2001 and have a service-connected disability. EBV-F is available to family members of qualified veterans, including members of the National Guard and Reserve. EBV Accelerate is available to qualified veteran-owned businesses at least three years old with five or more full-time employees. (See full conditions for each program on website.)
Learn more: Learn about all three programs at the EBV website.
8. Bunker Labs
Bunker Labs is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, a national network of veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs dedicated to helping the veteran community start and grow businesses. Programs include:
- Launch Lab Online—An online gamified, interactive way to get an entrepreneurship education; can be accessed from anywhere in the world.
- Veterans in Residence—Provides space, services, business mentorship, and community for veteran entrepreneurs and military family members who are entrepreneurs; currently available in 17 cities.
- CEOcircle—A mastermind group of select CEOs who are military veterans or spouses, and whose companies are growing; group meets monthly.
- Bunker Connect—A “part networking, part mentorship working session.” It brings together transitioning military, veterans and their spouses, and more than 65 resource partners. The program is slated to be available in 12 cities by mid-2020.
- Muster Across America—An annual national tour to cities across the United States showcasing veteran entrepreneurs, empowering local entrepreneurial ecosystems, and building connections between veterans and the business community. Events include education, networking, and a pitch competition.
Who qualifies: Active duty military, veterans, and their families are welcome. CEOcircle is by invitation only, but applicants may submit an “interest submission” online.
Learn more: Visit BunkerLabs.org.
9. National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP)
National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP) is a comprehensive entrepreneurship training and support program for veterans with a service-connected disability. It includes a self-study portion, eight-day residency program in Oklahoma, Tennessee, or Florida, followed by five months of support and mentorship. All travel, accommodation, meals, materials, and instructional costs are covered by the VEP.
Who qualifies: Any veteran with a service-connected disability.
10. Patriot Boot Camp (PBC)
Since 2012, Patriot Boot Camp (PBC), a national 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, has been on a mission to create a community that advances and supports military members, veterans, and military spouses in their mission to become creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs leading the new economy. PBC’s core program is an intensive three-day technology entrepreneurship boot camp that culminates in a pitch practice and competition. Fun fact: Four alumni have appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
Who qualifies: Military members, veterans, and military spouses.
Learn more: PatriotBootCamp.org
11. Vets First Verification Program
The Vets First Verification Program provides verified firms owned and controlled by veterans and service-disabled veterans the opportunity to compete for VA set-asides. VA also trains and certifies Verification Assistance Counselors to provide application assistance to SDVOSBs/VOSBs that want to become verified. Free counseling services are available to veterans free of charge at Procurement Technical Assistance Centers throughout the country. Free webinars and extensive educational resources are also available online.
Who qualifies: Veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses.
Learn more: Visit the Vets First Verification Program website.
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