It’s not hard to understand why veterans make good entrepreneurs, or why they are 45% more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans. During their service, they are required — at times while under fire — to show leadership, make tough decisions, allocate resources, and adapt quickly. Whether on land, at sea or high in the sky, they learn how to be responsible, and how to lead up and down the chain of command.
But veterans don’t just magically transform into entrepreneurs. It takes hard work, with no guarantee of a big payoff. But as in any endeavor, practice moves you closer to perfect. A veteran’s prospects of success as an entrepreneur are invariably improved through preparation and training.
Fortunately, service members and their spouses today have the opportunity, no matter where they are based, to partake in free and comprehensive entrepreneurial training through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business program.
National Veterans Small Business Week, taking place this week — Nov. 2–6 — is a chance to learn about and to celebrate the accomplishments and perseverance of the veterans who own 2.4 million small businesses in the United States, generating over $1 trillion in sales annually and employing nearly 5.8 million Americans.
Boots to Business, the entrepreneurship track of the Defense Department’s transition assistance program, is an important part of our efforts. It has two steps: a two-day course taught at 180 military installations around the world, followed by an online eight-week advanced program.
For some transitioning service members, Boots to Business may help them decide to take the plunge. For others, training can be the difference between success and failure. We seek — in programs taught by SBA employees, university professors, and retired business executives — to demystify the process of entrepreneurship and help service members and their spouses practically pursue and realize their dreams of small business ownership.
Not every person who engages in our courses — over 35,000 in the last three years alone — is going to become an entrepreneur. Some take the course knowing that they are first going back to school or into the workforce as an employee. That’s wonderful. Entrepreneurship is a lifelong process of education, and we encourage anyone who thinks that they might one day seek to own their own business to sign up for the free instruction and mentorship that Boots to Business offers.
Participation in our program is not the end of the story either. We have excellent partners in the public and private sectors who provide additional programs and resources. We work closely with the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Labor to support the Transition Assistance Program and ensure service members and their spouses have access to resources at any time during military service. We also work with leading academic institutions and nonprofits like the Institute of Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University to provide business education and training to veterans of all generations.
On the “main streets” of veteran small business are our veterans business outreach centers, small business development centers, and women’s business centers, and the retired business executives of SCORE, entities that together provide mentorship, counseling, and access to local business networks, which are critical to success in business.
For those veterans who didn’t have access to Boots to Business when they were transitioning, but now are pursuing a life as a small business owner, we are expanding Boots to Business Reboot, which begins with two-day training conferences hosted in major U.S. cities and can continue into the same eight-week online program.
My office doesn’t just oversee training, either. We spent a great deal of time ensuring that veteran entrepreneurs have access to the funding and resources they need to succeed. SBA lending in dollars to veteran-owned businesses grew by 110% from 2014 to 2015, totaling more than $1 billion.
I know how important these programs are; I am a veteran, a military spouse, and a one-time veteran entrepreneur. These resources matter, and I am committed to spreading awareness so that every transitioning service member and veteran understands that if she or he has an entrepreneurial dream, the SBA is here to help, regardless of military occupational specialty, rank, or level of education. Entrepreneurs come in many shapes and sizes.
You don’t get a day off for this year’s National Veterans Small Business Week. There is no parade of entrepreneurs. But you can help and can get help. If you or any veteran or service member you know is an entrepreneur or seeks to be an entrepreneur, take a minute this week to research all the training and resources that are available. And you can join the national conversation about veteran-owned businesses this week by using the hashtag #myvetbiz.
You may want to be the next Elon Musk. You may want to be the next owner of everyone’s favorite local restaurant. No matter what your vision, your chances of achieving your goals will improve with training. Happy National Veterans Small Business Week.