Vets can continue to serve by starting a business
Every year, about a quarter-million U.S. servicemembers transition out of the military. To know these men and women is to know that an overwhelming majority wish to continue to serve even after returning to civilian life.
One of the most impactful ways veterans can keep serving their country is by starting a business. It allows them to channel their talents, support their families, build their communities, and put their fellow veterans to work. One out of every 10 American businesses today is owned by a veteran, and 5.8 million Americans owe their job to a veteran. Among the most patriotic things any American can do is hire a veteran. And who better to do so than a veteran herself?
The military produces leaders who are disciplined, motivated, focused, risk-tolerant, stress-resistant, and accustomed to constantly changing roles and responsibilities. These happen to be the same traits that describe the most successful entrepreneurs.
No American is more deserving of the American dream than one who fought to protect it. Few Americans are better suited to realize that dream through business ownership than our veterans.
Before I took over as the head of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) last year, I started three businesses in Los Angeles. I know firsthand how daunting it can be to take on the job of leading a startup. The SBA has professional staff and business counselors in every region of the country on standby to advise veterans on how to craft a viable business plan, conduct market research, obtain a loan, manage working capital, build a customer base, and gain access to government contracts.
One of the hardest things about starting a company is getting that first loan. That’s why the SBA recruited banks across our lending network to take the Veterans Pledge in early 2014. As a result, SBA-backed loans to military veteran entrepreneurs have more than doubled in the last year as we pushed out more than a billion dollars in capital to vets. To encourage veterans to apply, SBA has eliminated all bank fees on veterans seeking loans under $350,000.
Another important way Uncle Sam gives back to those who gave so much to their country is by awarding government business to our military heroes. Last year, the federal government broke its record for contracts awarded to businesses owned by service-disabled vets, with $13.6 billion going to these small firms.
The SBA can provide the counseling, capital and contracts to help military leaders become business leaders.
How does a vet get started? For transitioning servicemembers, the SBA runs the Boots to Business program at 180 military installations worldwide and has already exposed 35,000 servicemembers and their spouses to the basics of business ownership. Any transitioning servicemember can access the curriculum by selecting the entrepreneurship track in the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP).
Finally, veterans of every era can take part in Boots to Business: Reboot. Under Reboot, the SBA has opened up our entrepreneurship classes to vets regardless of when they served or separated. Thirty events are being held this week alone in communities across America as part of National Veterans Small Business Week.
I’ll never forget the very first business I visited after joining President Barack Obama’s Cabinet last April. It was a local Cross Fit gym outside of Washington, D.C., and the owner was a post-9/11 veteran who had just graduated from our inaugural Boots to Business class. He confessed he had no idea how to start up, navigate the red tape, get that first loan, or market his company to the community. He confided that it was his SBA representative who took him by the hand and walked him through every step of the process. I hear stories like this across the country.
Our veterans have been part of the finest team in the world: the U.S. armed forces. So today, as we celebrate National Veterans Small Business Week, we want our aspiring veteran entrepreneurs to know they have a friend waiting to assist them in the business trenches — SBA, an agency committed to serving veterans as well as they’ve served us.
Maria Contreras-Sweet is administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.