Veterans Are Natural Born Entrepreneurs

Veterans Are Natural Born Entrepreneurs
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Veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than nonveterans, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

And the agency estimates that about 2.4 million or 9 percent of all U.S. small businesses are veteran-owned, representing about $1 trillion in annual sales.

The SBA announced last month that it would extend fee relief on its popular 7(a) loan for amounts of $150,000 or less. The fee-relief program, originally slated to expire on Sept. 30, was extended one year.

“We owe a debt of gratitude and so much more to our service men and women, and veterans who are the cornerstone of small business ownership," said SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet in a prepared statement. "This fee relief will continue to help veteran business owners who grow their businesses, create jobs in their communities, and put their training and passion for our country to work in their neighborhoods.” 

Many consider a veteran to be the perfect entrepreneur. The Fire and Adjust website noted 10 reasons why veterans make good entrepreneurs: confidence, self motivation, discipline, listening skills, determination, leadership, risk management, stress management, teamwork and focus.

Eddie Sell, an active fire captain in Long Beach, Calif., and the owner of Bellflower, Calif.-based Firehouse Chefs Food + Drink, represents one of the nearly 10 percent of U.S. entrepreneurs who went from servicemember to entrepreneur.

“I was very fortunate when I was in the Navy," Sell tells me during a recent interview. "I was trained in the culinary arts and I was assigned to a high-profile position serving an admiral and other VIPs.” 

“I loved what I did and always knew that I would one day own my own restaurant," Sell adds. "I started with a catering business that eventually turned into Firehouse Chefs Food + Drink. It took a while but I was able to make my dream come true by staying focused on my goal and taking advantage of a special loan program." 

Related: Thank You for Your Service - 4 Business Funding Programs for Veterans

In the near term more than 250,000 servicemembers a year will transition into civilian life, according to the SBA. This means the economy will likely experience a significant increase in veteran-owned businesses.

The SBA helps entrepreneurs like Sell through its Small Business Development Center (or SBDC) program, providing management assistance to current and prospective small business owners. These centers offer one-stop assistance, including information and guidance, to individuals and small businesses in central and easily accessible branch locations.

“I know firefighting and cooking inside and out," Sell says. "I did not know how to put a business plan together. The consultant at the SBDC worked with me for several months to put together a business plan to help me succeed with the restaurant and to get a bank loan." What's more, the agency arranged for the consulting services to be provided for free.

In September, Kauffman FastTrac, created by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, announced a free 10-week online entrepreneurship training program for veterans.

“Veterans possess some of the most important skills needed to become successful entrepreneurs,” said Michele Markey, vice president of Kauffman FastTrac. “Leadership experience, and the ability to calculate risk, manage teams and take initiative are invaluable characteristics of successful business owners.” 

The following are some tips to help veteran entrepreneurs succeed in business:

Related: From Flying in the Military to Launching a Business

1. Leverage military training.

Through their years in service, veterans learned valuable skills relevant to running a business, including confidence, self motivation, discipline, listening, determination, leadership, risk management, stress management, teamwork and focus.

Veterans should make the most of their acquired skills and treat them as a competitive advantage. While these skills no longer mean making decisions that amount to the difference between life and death, they can be enlisted to keep a business alive and thriving.

2. Set up a veteran-owned business.

These days diversity programs extend beyond aiding minority- and women-owned programs. Programs within large corporations and government agencies assist veteran-owned and disabled-veteran-owned businesses. Veterans should seek out local, state and federal certifications that give priority to veteran-owned businesses.

3. Check resources.

Other organizations assist veteran-owned businesses. Check local SCORE chapters and the Boots to Business website to find resources that aid veteran-owned businesses.

4. Seek out training.

Running a business is not easy. Programs such as the one offered by Kauffman FastTrac or Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses can be beneficial. Veterans can also inquire about other training opportunities by contacting local community colleges, SCORE and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

5. Network.

Being an entrepreneur is a lonely job. Apart from accruing business-development advantages from actively networking, veterans can receive valuable mentoring from other former servicepeople. Such relationships can be beneficial for dealing with business matters and challenges arising from having been in active service.

Related: By the Numbers: U.S. Veteran-Owned Businesses (Infographic)