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SBA executive: How more veteran-owned small businesses can keep America strong

November 15, 2016 (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika/Air Force)
Editor's note: The following is an opinion piece. The writer is not employed by Military Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff. 

Veteran-owned small businesses have always been a pillar of America’s economy, but they are in a generational decline.

More than 1.1 million veteran business owners are over the age of 65, and in 2014, only 4.5 percent of Post-9/11 veterans started a business,   according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When considering that nearly half of World War II veterans and 40 percent of Korean War veterans started businesses, the differences are stark.

As an estimated 200,000 service members transition from the military every year, the Small Business Administration knows how imperative it is to connect service members, veterans and military spouses with the tools and resources they need to become business owners — and what the nation risks losing if they don’t.

Census data shows veterans are 45 percent more likely than nonveterans to start a small business. Today, veterans own 2.52 million small businesses — nearly 1 in every 10 — while employing 6 million Americans and generating $1.14 trillion in receipts. However, estimates show there would be nearly 1.4 million more companies, creating an additional 2.8 million jobs, if today’s veterans launched their own businesses at a similar rate as Korean War veterans.

Starting a successful small business is a tough mission. It requires tenacity, discipline and adaptability — all character traits found in a veteran, alongside many other skills. But being your own boss doesn’t mean going it alone. 

Transitioning service members and veterans need ready access to business assistance services, resource networks, capital and market opportunities to ensure success. Empowering and regenerating America’s veteran entrepreneurs is one way to help reverse our declining trends in entrepreneurship while also facilitating the economic revitalization of small towns and rural America.

The SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development works to formulate, implement and promote policies and programs that equip members of the military community with counseling, training and education, as well as access to capital to start their own businesses and assist them with contracting opportunities. Since 2013, 50,000 transitioning service members and military spouses have participated in the Boots to Business program as part of the Defense Department’s Transition Assistance Program. B2B provided — for the first time since World War II — a strong, visible pipeline of potential veteran business owners.

Boots to Business provides free entrepreneurship training in more than 200 military installations and military communities. Graduates of these programs are 53 percent more likely to start a business, and 91 percent are still in business after a year, according to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

Resources like the Veterans Business Outreach Centers provide entrepreneurial development, counseling and mentoring, and referrals for eligible members of the military community. The Service-Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Development Training Program supports organizations that deliver entrepreneurship training to service-disabled veterans, and the Veterans Institute for Procurement is an accelerator-like program that focuses on procurement. 

In addition to the resources listed above, female veterans, active duty, and military spouses can also access resources through Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, or V-WISE.

Surveys of Post 9/11-era veterans show as many as 25 percent would like to own a business after leaving service. However, lack of seed capital can be a challenge. There are no grants for veteran-owned businesses, traditional SBA lending programs are not for new businesses and the SBA’s micro-lending intermediaries do not focus on veterans, leaving veteran entrepreneurs more likely than nonveterans to rely on personal savings and credit cards to fund their businesses.

Seeking to bridge the seed capital gap, Congress proposed the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition, or VET, Act of 2016. It proposes an SBA program that would evaluate the use of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits as seed capital for starting a new business, similar to the World War II era-GI Bill, connecting B2B and other technical assistance programs to GI Bill grants by leveraging existing SBA infrastructure and administration.

Barb Carson SBA
Air Force Reserve Col. Barb Carson
Photo Credit: Courtesy photo
The SBA activates the entrepreneurial potential of military and veteran entrepreneurs. Recognized through the SBA’s annual celebration during National Veterans Small Business Week and beyond, generations of these brave women and men have answered the call to start their own small businesses. The Post-9/11 era of veterans represents the next great generation to continue this legacy of success.

Air Force Reserve Col. Barbara Carson is the associate administrator for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Veterans Business Development. A military spouse, she co-developed a personal training business in 2006 with another military veteran. Troops, veterans and family members seeking more information about SBA programs and resource opportunities can visit www.sba.gov/myvetbiz .

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