Calling All Vets: How to Transition From Military Service to Entrepreneurship

While veteran entrepreneurs contribute $1.2 trillion to the economy annually, the transition from military service to civilian life can be fraught with challenges.

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By Geoff Weiss

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Today it feels truer than ever: there is, without question, no greater sacrifice than pledging military service on our nation's behalf. But once an assignment is completed, contributions by vets to our country's betterment tend to soldier onward, particularly within the entrepreneurial realm.

"Veterans overindex in small business ownership," noted Barb Carson, deputy associate administrator of the Small Business Association (SBA) and an air force vet herself, speaking at a panel in Washington, D.C., during National Small Business Week. "They contribute $1.2 trillion to the economy annually, employing 5.8 million Americans."

Which is not to say that entering the work force from the military doesn't come without its fair share of obstacles. It was for this reason that the SBA hosted a "Veterans Entrepreneurship Panel' during National Small Business Week featuring leading experts in the field.

Here are three key tips they shared:

Related: Franchise Players: Veteran and Mother of Five on Refusing to Settle

1. Have a plan. While many skills gleaned through service -- resilience, teamwork, dauntlessness -- are directly applicable to business, these attributes must be purposefully channeled.

One day, for instance, a Navy SEAL came into Eric Eversole's office with the best resume he'd ever seen. Eversole, the executive director of Hiring Our Heroes -- a government program whose aim is connect veterans with meaningful employment opportunities -- asked the young man what he ultimately wanted to do.

"To lead," he'd said.

While such dedication is heartening, Eversole noted that it's crucial for vets to have a mission in mind. "You'd never just automatically jump into a hot zone without a plan," he said.

Related: Starbucks to Hire 10,000 Veterans and Military Spouses in Next 5 Years

2. Find a mentor. Equally critical is finding a reliable mentor that has already tread a similar path, "even if it's just to confirm that you already know everything," said Ken Yancey, CEO of SCORE, an organization that matches entrepreneurs with potential advisers locally.

Also key is remembering that the mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street. In order to get the most from such a relationship, the panelists concluded, one must bring one's own substance and work to the table.

3. Hire employees as soon as possible. Finally, when it comes to seeking funds, Robert Bailey, president of consulting company BITC, advocates hiring as soon as possible -- even if it's only a single employee. This is because banks tend to appraise companies as a whole when choosing whether to offer a loan, he explained, regardless of a principle's achievements or abilities.

"Banks will toss your resume aside," he said. "All you need is one employee and people will look at you completely differently."

While avenues of opportunity for vets abound -- check out our own Veteran's Center for additional resources here -- the panel agreed on one thing unanimously: those who've served are among the most loyal and dedicated workers one should ever be so lucky enough to encounter.

Related: A SEAL's Perspective: 5 Ways to Be a Better Leader

Geoff Weiss

Former Staff Writer

Geoff Weiss is a former staff writer at

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