SBA Programs Help Vets Succeed

A group of business-people in black suits.

U.S. Marine veteran John Raftery started a contracting company in the Dallas area after finishing a free training program at Syracuse University.

"For me, it was pivotal," he said. "It was a launch pad to forming Patriot Contractors."

On Wednesday, the U.S. Small Business Administration launched three new or expanded programs based on the Syracuse model to help nearly 2,000 veterans start or grow businesses:

  • Syracuse's Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities provides mentoring, an online course and an immersion course at seven U.S. universities, including Texas A&M.
  • Operation Endure & Grow offers an eight-week online course and other classes for National Guard members, reservists and families.
  • Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship provides three days of training, online tools and mentoring.

More than one in five veterans -- and the percentage is higher among women vets -- is starting or buying a business or considering doing so, according to a study by Waldman Associates and REDA International.

"We at the SBA are looking for ways ... to offer all of the tools and support they need to enhance this leadership and entrepreneurial spirit they have," SBA Administrator Karen Mills said Wednesday in a conference call.

The SBA approved $1.25 billion in loans to 4,800 veterans in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, but it has found that few veterans sought help through entrepreneurial programs, largely because they didn't find them useful or didn't know they existed.

U.S. veterans owned 2.4 million businesses in 2007, or 9 percent of all businesses, according to the Census Bureau. Those companies employ 5.9 million people and generated $1.2 trillion in sales.

Texas ranked second nationally, with 199,615 veteran-owned firms and $96.3 billion in sales. California was first, with 239,658 firms and $145.5 billion in sales.

The families or business partners of troops deployed overseas often need help maintaining existing businesses, and the veterans need help starting businesses when they return, said Mike Haynie, national executive director of the Syracuse program.

More than 300 veterans have participated in Syracuse's boot camp, starting more than 150 businesses in the last three years, he said.

Raftery is a prime example.

In 2003, the Marine ended a four-year stint as a corporal in a reconnaissance unit in Kuwait and Iraq.

Raftery, 31, graduated from Syracuse's boot camp in 2007. Two weeks later, he quit his accounting job and started Patriot Contractors in Red Oak, 25 miles south of Dallas. The business finishes commercial and military building interiors with items such as cabinets, doors and railings.

"I had been searching for that path to go down," Raftery said. "When you come out of the Marines, you have all these skills, but you don't really know how to put them together and make them work."

While Raftery already had a bachelor's degree in accounting, he said the boot camp helped him develop his concept and answer questions such as "How do I write a business plan? How do I do market research? How do I get financing?" He expects his 18-employee company to double its revenue from last year to about $2 million this year.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has launched three new or expanded programs, in partnership with Syracuse University, to help military veterans start or grow businesses.

Here are online links to the programs:

The SBA also offers help at their veteran entrepreneur page.

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