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Veteran Entrepreneurship: Serving Beyond Active Duty

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart and very few people actually embody the entrepreneurial spirit; however, when it comes to veteran entrepreneurship, there’s a larger concentration of those who do. In fact, the SBA reports that military experience exhibits one of the largest marginal effects on self-employment. If you have served in the military or know someone who has, it should not come as a shock that veterans make excellent entrepreneurs.

From day one of their military service, servicemembers begin to exemplify all the traits we know and love our veterans for: discipline, resourcefulness, leadership, confidence, time management, etc. These traits translate smoothly to business ownership, which about 25% of veterans want to pursue. Unfortunately, it’s also reported that the number of veterans interested in business ownership is on the decline. For reference, 49% of WWII veterans pursued entrepreneurship whereas only 4.5% of post 9/11 veterans start businesses. A couple of theories to explain this gap are employment programs designed for veterans are focused on traditional employment and entrepreneurship programs are mostly available in larger cities, with heavier fees. Although, the instructional landscape is shifting towards eLearning, so this may help.

How do we encourage and help our veterans succeed in their business endeavors? We should recognize those veterans whose businesses that have paved the way, make conscious decisions to support those veteran-owned businesses, and make sure our veterans are aware of the many resources available to them. 

Veteran Entrepreneurship in Action 

You may be surprised to learn that some of these household names began as small, veteran-owned businesses and have grown to national, or international, enterprises:

  • FedEx – founded by Fred Smith who served in the Marine Corps and completed two tours in Vietnam.
  • Walmart – founded by Sam & James “Bud” Walton, who served as an Army Intelligence Officer and Navy Pilot, respectively, during WWII.
  • GoDaddy – founded by Bob Parsons who earned a Combat Action Ribbon, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and the Purple Heart for his time served in Vietnam. 

These businesses have been around for many years, it’s important to also note the smaller businesses that have resulted from veteran entrepreneurship that are gaining traction today:

  • Innovate Supplies – provides work experience and training for high school students and was founded by Nneka Brown-Massey who served as a Human Resources Specialist in the Army.
  • Puppy Mama – the mission is to bring your best friend wherever you go and was founded by Theresa Piasta, an Iraqi War Veteran, who wants to promote a dog-friendly lifestyle.
  • Boost Oxygen – breathing oxygen compressed into aluminum canisters for non-medical use, founded by Mike Grice, a Marine Corps Veteran.
  • Tin Hut BBQ – a gourmet food truck in Hawaii, founded by Army Veteran Frank Diaz.
  • Glass Beach Mugs – durable WWII era-inspired mugs to last founded by Turk McCleskey, Marine Corps Veteran, and Paul Balassa, Army Veteran.
  • Warriors Heart – private treatment for adults with chemical dependencies, alcohol abuse, and PTSD or PTSD related disorders, founded by Tom Spooner, Army Veteran.
  • Sword & Plough – repurposes military surplus materials into clothing and accessories, cofounded by Army Veteran Emily Nunez Cavness.
  • Doc Spartan – all-natural grooming essentials for those who lead active lifestyles, cofounded by Dale King, a veteran of Operations Enduring Freedom III and IV. 

You can find more veteran-owned businesses here. Many of these companies make it a point to hire veterans and military spouses, so by supporting them, you’re supporting a much bigger cause.

How to Support Our Veterans

There are many ways to support veteran entrepreneurship, and we can start by making an effort to find them. One easy way to do this is by using BuyVeteran which will match you with veteran-owned businesses in your area depending on what you are in need of. 

Share the veteran’s business on social media with a positive review, if the platform calls for it, use hashtags so these businesses generate in the search results. 

If you own a business, you could also choose to partner with veteran-owned businesses which will be extremely beneficial for both businesses. 

If you are a veteran business owner, make sure you have certified your business as such and it may be a good idea to put together a networking event for your fellow veteran business owners and aspiring veteran business owners.

Resources for Veteran Entrepreneurship

One of the roadblocks mentioned earlier that veterans face when seeking resources or training is the heavier fees and lack of availability throughout the US. The good news is there are some programs freely available to veterans, such as Boots to Business. Boots to Business is offered by the SBA to service members in the transition to civilian life and provides a curriculum aimed at preparing veterans for self-employment. 

Vetrn, along with the SBA, just announced the first online program for veteran small business owners.  This course uses the Streetwise MBA program to help grow veteran businesses. Bunker Labs also provides resources for veterans to build successful businesses and offers different training based on the phase of the business. For example, are you launching, growing, or scaling?

For those veterans interested in franchising, VetFran is a great place to start. VetFran offers comprehensive training for veterans who are pursuing or interested in pursuing a franchise opportunity. 

These are just a few of the programs offered, you can find more here

Final Thoughts

Veterans have sacrificed so much for our country and continue that caliber of dedication once they embark on their business journey. Chances are that we will receive a quality product from a hard-working company, and we should do our best to support these businesses. Veterans should be aware of the resources designed for them to start or grow their business. If you know a veteran who has a business, do your part in supporting their venture – even if that just means sharing their page on social media.