You have given your all as a service member and are ready to move onto the next phase in life. Finding your ideal path forward as a civilian can be difficult, and as you seek a post-military trajectory that you find fulfilling, you may be drawn to the life of an entrepreneur.
Veterans often excel in the business world, as many are driven, disciplined, and capable of thriving under pressure. Like any budding entrepreneur, however, veterans also run into significant challenges. Chief among these? Developing the right skills, finding the right contacts, and securing the right funding sources.
None of this is easy, but your status as a veteran business owner can uncover several valuable opportunities, including exclusive access to mentorship opportunities, grants, and training programs. We've outlined several options for aspiring veteran entrepreneurs below, along with suggestions for making the most of these resources.
No civilian path is ideal for every veteran, but many crave the autonomy and satisfaction that so frequently accompany entrepreneurship. Owning a business is an amazing option for passionate veterans, who can draw on their strong work ethic and many other impressive qualities to achieve great things as hardworking entrepreneurs. Although this path is far from easy, it can be wonderfully rewarding. Advantages worth considering include:
- Access to veteran-oriented funding and other resources.
- The ability to leverage skills developed in the military.
- Patronage from consumers eager to support veterans.
- The unique chance to create jobs and give back to the community.
- Independence and autonomy, as you are largely free to make your own decisions.
- Ongoing learning opportunities, both through targeted training and as you navigate business functions.
- Lifestyle advantages, including the potential ability to set your schedule as you see fit.
Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Act of 2023
While government programs have long sought to support veterans as they transition from the military to civilian life, many of these opportunities have previously centered around college-based training, with the assumption that veterans will then seek conventional, 9-to-5 jobs. These 'typical' jobs are not ideal for everyone, however, and emerging opportunities now recognize veterans' enthusiasm for entrepreneurial endeavors.
The Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Act of 2023 offers a valuable opportunity for veterans to develop crucial business skills and progress toward becoming full-fledged entrepreneurs. Thanks to this much-needed legislation, a clear path toward entrepreneurship is available through the Boots to Business program.
Boots to Business represents one of the most exciting offerings from the Department of Defense's Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Available to both service members and military spouses, this program encompasses foundational coursework designed to introduce veterans and their loved ones to the critical components of business ownership.
Additional learning opportunities are also available, including targeted courses and access to the Small Business Administration (SBA) Learning Center. Many entrepreneurs will need to proceed with enrollment in relevant college programs, but Boots to Business can provide a strong first step toward fulfilling entrepreneurial ambitions.
Speaking to the need for this program, Congressman Jake Ellzey explains that, while the US military does an amazing job training service members to protect our nation, it does not yet provide sufficient training to tackle all the challenges of civilian life. Ellzey believes that Boots to Business provides a reliable means of bridging that gap. "This program will help our veterans translate the skills they acquired during their years” into tools for success in civilian life.
Opportunities for Veteran Entrepreneurs
Boots to Business represents just one of many exciting opportunities available to veteran entrepreneurs, and although this program may be one of the most promising and robust, it is also important to research other offerings. Navigating these can be tricky — but several online resources provide guidance and insight into today's best veteran entrepreneur programs.
Valuable details are best accessed through the Veterans Affairs Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP), which provides a direct link to the critical resources that entrepreneurs of all kinds rely on through every phase of this exciting process. This website makes it easier to find and take advantage of these essentials:
- Vets First Verification
- Corporate connections
- Federal procurement opportunities
- Franchising opportunities
Military Skills for Entrepreneurship
A key step on the path to transitioning from military to veteran entrepreneurship is determining which currently held skills will translate to success as an entrepreneur — and identifying which skills are important but not yet developed.
The Joint Services Transcript (JST) can provide a valuable start, detailing the full scope of coursework and experience obtained during your time with the armed forces. While this resource is typically used to convey relevant skills to potential employers or college advisors, it can also be valuable from the aspiring entrepreneur's perspective. This will provide an instant overview of the competencies you've gained and where you might need to bridge the gap.
Regardless of what you've studied or which technical skills you've gained through your military experience, you probably already have many soft skills that will help you succeed as an entrepreneur, including:
- Critical thinking
- Cultural competency
Veterans Entrepreneurship Resources
As a veteran, you likely already possess in-demand skills, knowledge, and experience that will contribute greatly to your future success as an entrepreneur. You may need further preparation, however — especially if you have skill gaps in technical areas or need to further develop your business capabilities. Thankfully, many excellent resources and programs welcome veterans with open arms and will provide the support you need throughout this exciting journey.
Entrepreneurship Degrees & Certifications for Veterans
Depending on which skills you want to develop, you may determine that an entrepreneurship degree or certificate program provides the fastest and most reliable path to expanding your skill set. Thankfully, many excellent programs exist, including several specifically tailored to meet the unique needs of veteran students.
As you determine the return on investment of obtaining your degree, remember that you may be eligible for benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Other opportunities such as the Yellow Ribbon Program are also worth considering, especially if they remove financial barriers and help you take the next step on your entrepreneurial journey.
Choosing the right major is also critical. Some entrepreneurial pursuits will call for specific or highly technical programs, but most budding entrepreneurs can benefit from seeking a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Programs & Courses
In addition to the degree and certificate programs mentioned above, there are many individual courses and other training opportunities worth pursuing that can help you address specific skill gaps. You'll learn what goes into opening a business, how to handle industry-specific concerns, and the basics of business development.
Boots to Business provides an excellent start and can also be complemented by a variety of trusted certificate programs or exams. Look to the Certification Finder from CareerOneStop to learn more about available opportunities.
Opportunities for Veteran Entrepreneurs
Once you have finished your educational program and earned your degree or certificate, you should be prepared to take the next step: creating your business plan and obtaining funding. Don't hesitate to seek extra insight and support as you embark on this journey.
Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOCs) provides powerful guidance, including business plan workshops and concept assessments. Your college may also have a Veterans Affairs Center that offers valuable support and access to additional resources.
Resources for Veteran Business Owners
As you take your next step on an exciting journey toward becoming a veteran entrepreneur, continue making the most of programs specifically developed for veterans and service members. At this point, your focus may be on securing contracts or grants. Valuable opportunities worth pursuing include:
Veteran Small Business Certification
To encourage veteran entrepreneurship, the Small Business Administration (SBA) provides access to federal contracts and other opportunities via the Veteran Small Business Certification (VetCert). To qualify for certification, businesses must be majority veteran owned. Eligibility is also determined based on the size of the business and its registration status with SAM.gov.
Upon gaining certification as a veteran-owned small business (VOSB), it is possible to compete for exclusive opportunities from the VA. With seven percent of these set aside specifically for VOSBs and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs), the chances of scoring a contract are excellent. SDVOSB certification goes a step further by ensuring eligibility for sole-source and set-aside contracts.
Grants and Assistance
A variety of veteran-oriented funding programs promise to provide a boost as you get your new business off the ground. Eligibility standards vary significantly from one program to the next, but it's worth your while to investigate several so you can score maximum funding. Top options include:
- Military Entrepreneur Challenge. Offered through the Second Service Foundation, the Military Entrepreneur Challenge incorporates a unique three-step format, encompassing speed coaching, private pitches, and public pitches before live audiences. Winners are selected based on their personal stories and business ideas, with the program offering opportunities to earn grants of up to $15,000.
- Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund. An excellent option for entrepreneurial types who aspire to make their mark in ranching or agriculture, the Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund provides generous awards totaling between $1,000 and $4,000. Applicants are evaluated not only based on their military experience but also their transferable skills, community involvement, and vision for their future in agriculture.
- National Association for Self-Employed (NASE) Growth Grants. Although not specifically aimed at veterans, NASE's program offers the chance to score $4,000 grants. While applications are restricted to NASE members, veterans enjoy significant discounts on annual membership fees.
- Hivers and Strivers. As an angel investment group exclusively targeted at ambitious veterans, Hivers and Strivers identifies veterans as an "exceptional talent pool of leaders." It was founded by a West Point graduate and currently provides capital, board members, and counsel from industry leaders.
Veteran-Owned Business (VOB)
Many consumers are eager to support veteran-owned businesses (VOB), with some shopping exclusively at stores owned and operated by veterans. These locations can easily be identified using an extensive directory of VOBs, created and maintained by the American Veteran Owned Small Business Association (aVOSBa).
Getting your business listed within this directory is free of charge if you qualify as a VOSB or SDVOSB. This veteran entrepreneur program can function as an excellent marketing tool and may also guide your purchasing decisions as you seek to support other veteran business owners.
Prepare for a Bright Future as a Veteran Entrepreneur
Do you dream of launching your own business and thriving as an entrepreneur? Targeted training could make the path to entrepreneurship much smoother and more enjoyable. Look to Lindenwood Online and Lindenwood Global for guidance every step of the way. We are committed to supporting military-affiliated students and can provide the encouragement you crave.
We are pleased to offer a variety of business-oriented programs of interest to veteran students, including an exciting new Lindenwood Global opportunity: the Bachelor of Science in Fashion Entrepreneurship. A similar program is available at the graduate level. These are just two of many excellent degree programs worth looking into — and if you have big plans for your entrepreneurial future, you will find plenty of relevant training opportunities. Reach out today to learn more.