You’ve served your country proudly, and you’re about to turn the next page in your life—entrepreneurship.
But before you go about starting and opening a business, there are some easy tips, resources, and tricks that will make your transition from former veteran to independent entrepreneur as painless as possible.
The benefits of being certified as a veteran-owned business
After you’ve written out your business plan (e.g., setting goals, identifying target markets, and preparing your products), the next step is to get certified as a veteran-owned small business (VOSB).
It helps to get certified before you begin to apply for funding, because there are a lot of important incentives and special loans for veterans, especially those who were injured or disabled in service to the nation (service-disabled veterans).
Beyond special loans, certification as a veteran-owned business can also benefit your enterprise in a number of surprising ways. For example, according to the National Veteran Owned Business Association (NAVOBA), nearly 70% of Americans have stated that they prefer to purchase goods or services from veterans. This is most likely due to the high trust that Americans place in the military.
Registering as a veteran-owned business can also make it easier to work with the government, particularly where it concerns contracting. Granted, this is a bit more complex, owing to government protocols and regulatory agencies, but for VOSBs with the manpower and willingness to dig deeper, it’s definitely worth it.
How to be certified as a VOSB
As others have pointed out, the first place to register as a VOSB is the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), which offers one of the best-known and most credible certifications because of its rigorous vetting. Other non-profit, non-governmental organizations (like NAVOBA) are also worth exploring. They all have databases of veteran entrepreneurs for companies to do business with.
Whatever you choose, the process is fairly straightforward. All veterans will need their DD-214, issued upon discharge from their branch of service, while service-disabled veterans will also need a letter from the VA certifying that their disability was incurred through military service. For regular companies and business partners, it’s unlikely that they’ll ask for more than those documents.
Let’s take a look at some key, veteran-specific loan programs that may be helpful to you.
The Small Business Administration (SBA)
In many ways, the SBA is the lifeblood of American small businesses. While many businesses (veteran-owned or not) have succeeded without the SBA, this organization does have plenty of targeted incentives that will be valuable to veterans.
For example, for reservists whose businesses were affected because they were called up to duty, take a look at the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan. Unfortunately, because this loan’s terms are so specific (reservist veterans must prove that their service had a negative, irreversible impact on their business), it’s also quite difficult to qualify for.
Non-Governmental and Private Organizations
Aside from the SBA and the VA, there are also a number of non-governmental organizations (private, nonprofit, and not-for-profit) that offer up veteran-specific incentives.
- Hivers and Strivers
A unique venture capital firm founded by former military officers, Hivers and Strivers exclusively funds startups that were also founded, run, and managed by graduates of the United States service academies. One prominent venture backed by Hivers and Strivers is Rumi Spice, a firm that directly sources spices from Afghan farmers, thus providing incentives to grow crops other than opium.
- Veteran’s Opportunity Fund
Like Hivers and Strivers, the Maryland-based Veteran’s Opportunity Fund was also founded to cater to startups established and led by veterans. Administered by TCP Venture Capital, the Veteran’s Opportunity Fund invests up to $3 million in high-growth companies in exchange for equity. Do note that startups have to be at the early revenue stage, or have a product or service that can be evaluated.
Founded and run by former veterans, StreetShares is a peer-to-peer lending platform whose most unique characteristic is “affinity-based lending,” which matches entrepreneurs and lenders based on shared traits (for instance, matching female veterans together). While StreetShares does have some drawbacks (it can only lend up to 20% of the total yearly revenue of a business), it offers reputable vetted lenders, a range of loan terms (anywhere from three to 36 months) and generous interest rates.
- Veteran’s Business Fund
While the Veteran’s Business Fund (VBF) is still completing its fundraising (and not taking applications as of early 2017), it’s intended for veterans-turned-entrepreneurs who want to expand businesses, start businesses, or become a franchisee. Much of the VBF is privately funded, through donations from high net-worth individuals as well as ordinary citizens.
Most interesting is the fact that, in addition to providing funds, the VBF also helps veteran small business owners apply for funding from other institutions, such as the SBA or VA.
Thank You For Your Service!
The aforementioned institutions are just a small selection of the many resources out there for veteran-owned small businesses. For a full list of options that include not just loan programs, but also organizations that offer veterans business and entrepreneurship training, click here.
Meredith Wood is the Head of Content and Editor-in-Chief at Fundera, an online marketplace for small business loans. Prior to Fundera, Meredith was the CCO at Funding Gates. Meredith manages financing columns on Inc, Entrepreneur, HuffPo and more, and her advice can be seen on Yahoo!, Daily Worth, Fox Business, Amex OPEN, Intuit, the SBA and many more.