Veterans are successful entrepreneurs at rates that exceed those who have never served

The economy of the United States depends on small business and veterans are delivering

by James Schmeling, Co-Founder, Institute for Veterans and Military Families and Managing Director, Programming

iStock_000018280804LargeAt the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), we’ve focused on veteran and family entrepreneurship and small business ownership for more than eight years. We know this is a career path that resonates with veterans and their families for many reasons. And Census data, analyzed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and others regularly, demonstrates that veterans are successful entrepreneurs at rates that exceed those who have never served, and that this has been the case going all the way back to World War II-era veterans. Now, with the 2012 data newly released, we see women veteran entrepreneurs increasing at amazing rates, growing from less than 100,000 women veteran owned businesses in 2007 to nearly 400,000 in 2012. The economy of the United States depends on small business and veterans are delivering.

National Veterans Small Business Week (Nov. 2-6) is an opportunity to call attention to our nation’s veteran and family business owners, the programs and services available to them, their successes and contributions to our economy, and the difference they can make through business ownership in their communities, for their employees, and for those they provide products and services to everyday. SBA’s programs, which IVMF participates in include Boots to Business, Boots to Business: Reboot, and Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE). SBA also supports the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), begun at the Whitman School at Syracuse University and now extending to ten world-class universities throughout the country!

In our EBV program, nearly 45% of veteran business owner alumni are employer firms, compared to only about 20% of all small businesses in the national economy. And in the SBA program delivered by IVMF for women veterans, transitioning women service members, and women spouses of veterans or service members, again, nearly 45% are employer firms. They are successful business owners, employing on average between 4 and 5 employees in each employer business, with 42% of their employees being veterans or spouses! And we think they are just getting started. About 65% of participants start business after these programs, and over 90% are still in business, ranging from over 8 years old to those just started last year.

With all that success, the IVMF is now working with the SBA, the Marcus Foundation, and First Data to publicly launch the co-sponsored Boots to Business: Reboot program. The transition assistance program for military members and veterans has included an entrepreneurship and small business education program for over a year and a half now. Consistently rated highest among the optional training tracks for its content and delivery, and offered worldwide by IVMF, SBA, and SBA resource partners, we realized that many veterans and family members had transitioned before Boots to Business launched and didn’t have opportunity for this education and training program. So, working with our co-sponsors, raising private funding from the Marcus Foundation and First Data, we’re launching this program with SBA nationwide for veterans and spouses of all service eras. The training and education is broadly the same, with tweaks focused on veterans and local communities, offered by the same instructors, and followed up by the same eight-week online course led by faculty and entrepreneurs. There are over 30 Boots to Business: Reboot sessions scheduled during Veteran Small Business Week.

Education and training is just the start, though. We’re also focused on creating opportunities for veteran and family owned businesses through innovative partnerships like the Coalition for Veteran Owned Business (CVOB) with First Data as a founding sponsor and many other private sector partners. We know, though most transitioning veterans and family members don’t, that about 39% of all veteran owned businesses have other private sector businesses as major customers (that is, 10% or more of their business). However, most veterans come into our classes with no focus on doing business with other private sector businesses and instead focus only on government contracting (despite the fact that only 2.9% of all veteran-owned businesses have the federal government as a major customer) or want to start retail, consumer-facing businesses.

One veteran who built his business around supplying the private sector is Tony Baird of Tony Baird Electronics, Inc. (TBE). TBE specializes and operates in three business segments: commercial audio/visual integration, custom cable assemblies and wire harness manufacturing, and government procurement services. In addition to working with many high level clients in military, government, and transit verticals, TBE past clients also include L-3 Communications, Zepher (a subsidiary of Boeing), SRCTEC, Funny Bone Comedy Club and Sky Zone Trampoline Park. Through the EBV program, Tony Baird was recently introduced to Lockheed Martin and Tony was been invited to present TBE at the Lockheed Martin Supplier Information Conference in November 2015. Tony Baird Electronics is certified as a Minority-Owned Business Enterprise (MBE), Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB), SBA certified 8a/SDB, Historically Under-utilized Business Zone (HUBZone) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE). In 2013, TBE was awarded the Veteran Owned Achievement Award by the SBA and was a finalist for Minority Business of the Year by CenterState CEO. In 2015, TBE was named Veteran Business of the Year.

Tony has had great success connecting with the private sector in part due to mentoring and connections through IVMF programs. And we can do more! With the CVOB, we’re taking both a short and a long view. The short view is matching existing and newly-formed veteran and family owned businesses with large private sector businesses who want to buy goods and services from them. We’re working with SBA to get the work out about the American Supplier Initiative and their business matching initiative (https://asi.mybusinessmatches.com/) so buyers and sellers can find each other. We’re also building a robust database of veteran and family-owned businesses (http://veteranbusinesscoalition.org/get-involved/) to facilitate matching with CVOB member businesses. The long view is to share information and opportunities with veterans and family members early in their entrepreneurship and business ownership journeys, so they can make informed decisions on their business plans. Right now most veteran business owners who do business with the private sector come to it after they’ve been in business and don’t plan to build businesses around supplying to the private sector. Education and opportunity recognition will create businesses that can meet the needs of larger companies whether they are buying products to put on their shelves to sell, services to resell, products for use in running their business operations, or services such as maintenance, transportation, or any of the many other services that are needed for large businesses to run.

Aspiring entrepreneurs can take advantage of education and training offered by IVMF, SBA, SBA resource partners, and others, like that being offered at the Building Veteran Business Summit being held on November 6th in Dallas on the SMU campus. The educational program introduces business owners to concepts important to all businesses, like branding and marketing, using technology to enhance businesses, and access to capital. It also introduces them to CVOB member companies who will share information on doing business with them, products and services in demand by large businesses, and broad focuses of large businesses for supply chain diversity. Future events will include matchmaking and ramping up the ability of small businesses to sell to large enterprises.

Small businesses can also register in the CVOB database as mentioned above so they can be found by others, and be notified of opportunities that may enhance their businesses. Large businesses can work with us on supplier diversity programs and including veterans and family members, as well as working with us to help suppliers start veteran and spouse career initiatives and build their businesses with talented, career-oriented professionals.

We’re focusing our efforts with our partners to educate and train this generation of veteran and family entrepreneurs, to make connections between those producing goods and creating services with those who will buy them in the private sector, and building out robust supply chain opportunities that will strengthen our economy.

This week, as we celebrate National Veterans Small Business Week; launch Boots to Business: Reboot in locations across the country; strengthen and support veteran owned businesses at a Building Veteran Business Summit in Texas; educate and train women veterans and military spouses aspiring to launch or grow their entrepreneurial ventures at a 3-day conference in Kansas City; align with Walmart in their national campaign to Greenlight a Vet; and prepare to honor our veterans next week on Veterans Day – let’s remember that those who have worn our nation’s uniform are valued, contributing members of our communities, highly successful entrepreneurs, and respected civic assets.