Veterans have access to wide-ranging resources when starting their own business. Leveraging your military training, experience and networks provides further advantages. These can give you a leg up on a business idea, a plan of action and funding for your enterprise.
There are more than 320,000 veteran-owned businesses, employing 3.6 million Americans, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Depending on the type of business, veterans can take advantage of tax breaks, access to government contracts and programs that can provide grants, loans and business training.
Steps to Starting a Business
The three biggest steps you’ll take in starting a business are coming up with the idea for a business, writing a business plan and coming up with the funding to launch it.
Many of the smaller steps are covered by these larger ones.
Most people already have an idea for a business when they set out to create it. But others who simply want to be their own boss may find coming up with a business idea the hardest part.
When starting a business, choosing an idea that aligns with your skills and passions is a good route to success. You may want to build on the skills and experience you developed while in uniform.
Business Ideas Built on Military Skills
- Adventure-Based Ventures: Start an adventure business with extreme activities like bungee jumping, skydiving, and white water rafting to capitalize on your unique experiences.
- Automotive: Turn your motor pool mastery into civilian opportunities in automotive service or repair. Start small with a service garage and expand as profits grow.
- Construction and Contracting: Find a niche in your area that’s profitable and use your talent for managing teams to lead your business to success.
- Firearms Training: Leverage your expertise in firearms training and safety to become a private firearms trainer. Or open a shooting range, offering valuable skills to civilians.
- Franchise Owner: Leverage your leadership skills to own and run a franchise. Franchising is a simple way to start a retail business. You get a customer base and a product line as soon as you open. Some franchises such as UPS Store and Lawn Doctor offer up to $10,000 off the purchase price for vets.
- Government Contracting: Get ahead as a veteran-owned business by becoming a government contractor. The government is committed to allocating 3% of contracts to veterans.
- Hospitality Ventures: Consider starting a restaurant or bar that is owned and operated by veterans. Your experience in high-pressure situations and ability to manage fast-paced environments can be an asset in creating a successful business.
- IT Consulting: Use the unique technical skills you gained while serving in the military for a career in IT consulting.
- Leadership Consulting: Use your military leadership experience to start a consulting firm that helps businesses improve processes and develop strong leadership skills.
- Logistics Consulting: Apply your military logistics skills to transportation, warehousing, event management, and planning.
- Outdoor Skills Training: Start a business teaching wilderness survival and outdoor skills. Focus on niche markets like hunting or fishing to cater to different interests. Share your knowledge to help others enjoy the wilderness safely.
- Personal Training: Use your military fitness expertise to become a personal trainer or gym owner and inspire others to achieve their fitness goals.
- Security Solutions: Use your military skills to offer private security services and establish a security firm.
- Support Services: Start a business to support veterans with services ranging from rehabilitation to mental health counseling and civilian life transition assistance.
Creating a business plan
A well-crafted business plan is crucial for structuring, running, and growing your business while considering all the critical elements.
It can also help you secure funding or bring on new business partners. Opt for the traditional format if you’re detail-oriented or seeking financing from conventional sources.
Traditional Business Plan Format
- Executive Summary: Briefly outline your mission, product, leadership, and financials.
- Company Description: Explain what problems your company solves and its competitive advantages for the specific consumers, organizations, or businesses you plan to serve.
- Market Analysis: Research your competitors, compare their strengths, and explain trends and themes.
- Organization and Management: Detail your business structure, key personnel and how they will operate.
- Service or Product Line: Describe your product or service and your marketing and sales strategies.
- Funding Requests: Explain how much money you need, what you’ll use it for, and whether you want to borrow it or sell part of your business to someone else.
- Financial Projections: Include financial projections to show your business’s stability and potential for success.
- Appendix: Include supporting documents such as credit history, resumes, licenses, permits, patents or product pictures.
For a quick and straightforward business plan, try a lean startup format. Highlight the most important parts of your business with simple charts, including your value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances.
Lean Startup Business Plan Format
- Key Partnerships: Think about the necessary businesses and services, like suppliers and manufacturers, to succeed in your business.
- Key Activities: How can your business gain a competitive advantage and what are some effective sales/marketing strategies that leverage technology?
- Essential Resources: Describe how you’ll utilize resources to create customer value, including potential business resources available to veterans, Native Americans, and women.
- Value Proposition: Explain clearly and compellingly how your business will provide a unique value to the marketplace.
- Customer Relationships: How will customers interact with your business from start to finish?
- Customer Segments: Identify a specific target market for your business.
- Channels: How will your business communicate with customers, and how might this change?
- Cost Structure: Develop a strategy to reduce costs and increase your company’s value. Identify the major costs your business will incur.
- Revenue Stream: Explain your revenue streams – sales, memberships, ad space and other options.
Examples of these business plan formats are available from the Small Business Administration.
Funding your new business
Funding a new business is typically done through one of three means:
- Finding investors.
- Taking out a loan.
There are many ways to approach these three options, including banks, venture capitalists, non-profit organizations and government agencies.
Self-funding or “bootstrapping”
Fund your business using your resources, like savings, contributions, or 401(k). This is called bootstrapping and gives you control but carries all risks.
Be careful with spending and seek financial advice before tapping into retirement accounts to ensure your financial security.
Consider venture capital to attract investors. Investors provide funds in exchange for ownership and an active role in the company.
Suitable for high-growth businesses, but requires giving up control. Capital is given in rounds based on achievements.
Crowdfunding is a low-risk way to get money from a large group of people without losing ownership of your business.
It’s famous for creative projects and unique companies. Crowdfunders don’t expect ownership but may get special rewards.
Small business loan
Get a small business loan to control your business. Make a plan that shows how much you need and how you will use it.
Predict how much money your business will make in the future. By comparing loan offers, you can find the best deal.
If you need help getting a business loan, consider SBA-guaranteed loans. The SBA can guarantee your loan, making it less risky for lenders.
But it improves your chances of getting the funds you need. Use Lender Match to find SBA-guaranteed loan options.
SBA investment programs
There are several small business funding options available from the SBA designed specifically for qualified veteran startups.
- Small Business Investment Company (SBIC): SBA capital is a government-guaranteed loan that, when paired with private funding, helps small businesses and startups in the US access more financing while potentially reducing risk for investors.
- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR): This program encourages engagement in federal research and development with the potential for commercialization.
- Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR): This program presents funding possibilities for startups collaborating with nonprofit research institutions.
Grants, Programs, and Other Resources Available to Veterans
There are a large number of organizations that provide help for veterans starting their own businesses.
These include business training, mentoring, grants, and loans.
Education and Business Opportunity Resources for Veterans
- Boots to Business: A free two-step education and training program by the SBA for service members transitioning to entrepreneurship.
- Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program: An SBA program helping qualifying veteran entrepreneurs obtain government contracts.
- Veteran Business Outreach Centers: SBA-backed centers nationwide provide workshops, training, counseling, and mentorship for veteran-run businesses.
- Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E): A program aimed at helping veterans with service-connected disabilities find a job or start a business.
- VetFran: An organization that helps match veterans to franchisors offering discounts for starting a business.
Grants & Loans
Universities, private companies, non-profits, and state and federal government agencies offer veterans grants and loans for starting a new business.
Not all of these are limited to veterans.
- Beyond Open Small Business Grant Program: Grant program for underrepresented entrepreneurs in Charlotte, NC.
- Chicago Job Creators Quest Grant: Business grant opportunity for Illinois-based businesses.
- eBay Up & Running Grants: Awards $10,000 to 50 eBay sellers annually.
- FedEx Entrepreneur Fund: Collaborating with Hello Alice and GEN, provides $10,000 grants and educational support.
- FedEx Small Business Grant Contest: FedEx sponsors this annual contest to offer grants to business owners.
- Feed the Soul Foundation’s Restaurant Business Development Program: Run by Feed the Soul Foundation, supporting food-based businesses.
- Founders First Job Creators Quest Grant: Offers small businesses growth capital and access to business accelerator programs. Founders First is a national program that sponsors several regional grants.
- Hivers and Strivers: An investment group that invests only in veteran-owned businesses.
- Incfile Fresh Start Business Grant: Startup grant by Incfile, providing $2,500 to winners.
- Small Business Growth Fund: Collaborative effort with GEN, Etsy, and Progressive to empower small business owners with grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.
- Venmo Small Business Grant: Open to all Venmo business users, offering $10,000 grants.
- GrantWatch: An online platform that compiles non-profit and small business grant offerings in the United States, including those specifically designed for veteran-owned businesses.
- National Association for the Self-Employed (NASE): Offers grants of up to $4,000 to members who want to grow their self-employment business. NASE also awards $3,000 scholarships for members’ dependents each year.
- Second Service Foundation Military Entrepreneur Challenge Grant Program: Formerly StreetShares Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps veterans create or grow their businesses through coaching, virtual classes and capital grants.
- Warriors Rising Small Business Grants: A nonprofit organization founded by veterans, offering small business grants and mentorship.
- Grants.gov: An online database where you can search for various federal grants, including those from the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense.
- Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program: A federal government website offering funding opportunities for entrepreneurial veterans.
- Maryland Military Personnel and Veteran-Owned Small Business Loan Program: Offers interest-free loans up to $50,000 to companies owned by veterans, Reservists, and National Guard members within Maryland.
- VA Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization: Helps small businesses access federal services and do business with the federal government.
- SBA Office of Veterans Business Development: Provides service members and veterans, their spouses and family members with services to start and build a small business.
- Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab: Grand Valley State University operates this program for small-business owners in Michigan.
- Texas Woman’s University Veteran Woman Entrepreneur Grant: The Center for Women Entrepreneurs at Texas Woman’s University offers this $5,000 grant program.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Get Support for Your Veteran-Owned Small Business. Retrieved from https://www.va.gov/careers-employment/veteran-owned-business-support/
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Veteran Entrepreneur Portal. Retrieved from https://www.va.gov/osdbu/entrepreneur/
U.S. Small Business Administration. (n.d.). Need Funding for Your Small Business? Retrieved from https://www.sba.gov/
U.S. Small Business Administration. (n.d.). Veteran-Owned Businesses. Retrieved from https://www.sba.gov/business-guide/grow-your-business/veteran-owned-businesses
U.S. Census Bureau. (2022, November 10). Census Bureau Releases New Data on Minority-Owned, Veteran-Owned and Women-Owned Businesses. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2022/annual-business-survey-characteristics.html