Veterans Running the Show in Small Business
Currently 12 million veterans are in the labor market, and 3.6 million of them are small business owners. If you're among those veterans making the leap into owning your own business, the rewards (and challenges) can be significant, but there is help out there if you're looking to become an entrepreneur. One of the first places to start is the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which has an Office of Veterans Business Development that offers support to those braving the new waters of running their own business.
"We can help accelerate the learning curve that comes with owning a business," says William Elmore, Associate Administrator of the Office of Veterans Business Development. "We have business development assistance in three primary areas: technical assistance, business financing and government contracting programs."
The SBA provides free individual face-to-face and Internet counseling for small businesses, and low-cost training to first-time entrepreneurs and established small businesses. To make use of these services, contact one of the SBA's district offices, who can put you in touch with veteran business officers as well as Small Business Development Centers (950 offices in the U.S.), SCORE (which provides free advice to entrepreneurs in 350 chapters across the U.S.), and the Office of Women's Business Ownership.
The SBA also provides various financing programs that help small businesses get off the ground:
1. 7(a) Loan Programs
These loans help start-up and existing small businesses obtain financing when they might not be eligible for business loans through normal lending channels. The SBA itself does not make loans, but rather guarantees a portion of loans made and administered by commercial lending institutions (most American banks participate in the program). Participating lenders agree to structure loans according to the SBA's requirements, and apply and receive a guaranty from the SBA on a portion of this loan.
One helpful loan program for veterans and members of the military community looking to establish or expand small businesses is the Patriot Express Pilot Loan Initiative, which offers loans of up to $500,000. Since its launch in 2007 the program has provided $560 million in loan guarantees to nearly 7,000 veterans, and has been renewed through 2014. Eligible members for this loan include veterans, service-disabled veterans, active duty servicemembers eligible for the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), Reservists and National Guard members, current spouses of any of the above, and widowed spouses of servicemembers or veterans who died during service or of a service-connected disability. Most loan requests for Patriot Express receive an answer within 24-36 hours; for more information, check with your local SBA district office.
The SBA makes funds available to local lenders with experience in lending as well as management and technical assistance; the lenders then offer loans of up to $50,000 to eligible borrowers.
3. CDC/504 Program
The CDC/504 loan program is a long-term financing tool that provides small businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing for infrastructure improvements (i.e., buying a building, equipment, production improvements). Loan amounts can be up to $1.5 million.
The Federal Government has strict guidelines regulating purchases of goods and services -- the SBA's Government Contracting Program helps both contracting officials as well as small business owners do business with the government. The SBA also assists service-disabled small businesses looking to be competitive in government contracting.
Other Related Programs
Other related small business programs for military veterans include the Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), as well as the Veterans Fast Launch Initiative by SCORE, which both offer counseling, mentoring, workshops, and other services for veterans seeking to start their own business. For more details on EBV and the Veterans Fast Launch initiative, stay tuned for future profiles by Military.com.
Veteran Business Outreach Centers
If you're a veteran looking for more information on SBA and veteran-specific programs that might help you, contact your local district office. The SBA also has Veteran Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) that offer assistance in outreach, assessment, long and short-term business training, counseling, directed referring, and online assistance to veterans, service disabled veterans, and Reserve business owners and entrepreneurs. Details on individual outreach centers are below.
REGION I (Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire):
Northeast Veterans Business Resource Center
REGION II (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands):
State University of New York SUNY at Farmingdale
Albany, New York
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
Newark, New Jersey
REGION III (Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, District of Columbia):
Old Dominion University
University of Pennsylvania
REGION IV (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina):
University of West Florida, Pensacola
Fayetteville State University
Fayetteville, North Carolina
REGION V (Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana):
REGION VI (Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma):
University of Texas - Pan American
New Mexico Department of Veterans' Services
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Southwest Louisiana Business Development Center
REGION VII (Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska):
Veterans Advocacy Foundation
Saint Louis, Missouri
REGION VIII (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado):
Chippewa Cree Tribe
Box Elder, Montana
REGION IX (California, Arizona, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada):
Vietnam Veterans of California
University of Guam