Four ways veterans can find funding as entrepreneurs

By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterans are 45 percent more likely than non-veterans to be self-employed. According to BLS numbers, veterans are more suited as entrepreneurs because of the discipline, tenacity and adaptability they develop while serving in the military. 

But, because veterans spend much of their time on base or in battlefields, it can be difficult for them to obtain the network and capital required to start and run a business. 

“It is imperative that veterans have access to resources and funding opportunities. Because their sole purpose was the military for their first service, veterans and military spouses alike start behind the curve ball of entrepreneurship,” said Lauren Hope, executive director of the Second Service Foundation. “They just have not had time to connect to the community and resources available locally.” 

In an effort to help veteran entrepreneurs grow and scale their enterprises, the AFRO compiled a list of three organizations providing funding and resources to veteran-owned businesses. 

Ken Vennera serves as the chief of staff at Warrior Rising. The organization provides training programs for “vetpreneurs,” helping them master business essentials and attract funding. (Photo courtesy of Warrior Rising)

Warrior Rising

Established by veterans in 2015, this non-profit seeks to turn veterans into what it calls “vetpreneurs.” Warrior Rising provides veterans and their immediate family members with business training, mentorship, small business grants and professional development. Its signature training program, Warrior Academy, has 40 self-paced educational modules that render the military decision-making process into a business model. 

“There’s a parallel between military operations orders and business plans. In most good instructional programs, when you do an overlay with something that’s familiar to people, it lends to comprehension,” Ken Vennera, chief of staff for Warrior Rising, said noting that their 

Warrior Academy “helps veterans to take their concept or an existing business and improve it by developing their business mindset.” 

After Warrior Academy, veterans participate in VETtoCEO. In the eight-week program, veteran, seasoned professionals discuss business essentials, like marketing, financial projections, networking, capital and funding strategies. Once veterans complete both programs, they then apply for a Business Shower, which offers them access to grants, investors, custom-built websites, headshots, computers and marketing videos. Warrior Rising’s goal is to create 100 veteran-owned $1 million-dollar businesses by 2024. 

“You can have an idea on a napkin. You can just be at the beginning,” said Theresa Irving, an Air Force veteran and program participant. “Sometimes the best thing that could happen in this program is you test your idea, and you save yourself thousands because you want to go in a different direction.” 

Lauren Hope is executive director of the Second Service Foundation, which provides mentoring, networking, executive coaching and capital for veterans and their spouses. It offers two signature challenges that award grants, legal support and public relations packages to veteran entrepreneurs. (Photo courtesy of the Second Service Foundation)

Second Service Foundation

Since its inception in 2016, the Second Service Foundation has trained more than 10,000 military veterans and spouses to become small business owners and entrepreneurs. The nonprofit, founded by veteran Mark L. Rockefeller, connects veterans with capital, mentors and networking opportunities. 

Its Military Entrepreneur Challenge and National Military Entrepreneur Challenge enable veterans to participate in pitch competitions to win capital, public relations packages and legal services. The organization also hosts speed coaching events, in which industry professionals donate their time and expertise to support veteran entrepreneurs. Most recently, the Second Service Foundation launched Finding Your Second Service (FYCC), an executive coaching program.  

“Veterans do hard things well. Period. They have lived their worst days, and now their best days are ahead of them,”said Hope. “They have emotional depth based on their lived experiences, and they know that the mountains of problems in entrepreneurship are really just molehills of life. They have the grit and tenacity it takes to survive.”

Les Hall is a program director for the Office of Finance at the Maryland Department of Commerce. The department runs a program that provides no-interest loans ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 to certain military personnel. (Photo courtesy of Maryland Department of Commerce)

Military Personnel and Veteran-owned Small Business Loan Program 

The Maryland Department Of Commerce created this no-interest loan program in 2006. The program awards certain military personnel with no-interest loans ranging from $1,000 to $50,000. Aside from veteran-owned small businesses, the program supports reservists and National Guard members who are called to active duty to ensure they can manage business expenses while serving their country. 

For disabled veterans, the program helps pay for modifications to veterans’ places of work or houses if they work from home. The application process commences at the beginning of Maryland’s fiscal year and typically remains open for 45 to 60 days. 

“Veterans, like other entrepreneurs, need access to capital and access to credit to sustain their businesses. The state of Maryland felt it appropriate to make this resource available to veterans based upon their commitment and the experience they’ve had in serving our country,” said Les Hall,  program manager for the Office of Finance Programs at the Maryland Department of Commerce. “We found that many veterans, in particular service-disabled veterans’ don’t seek to enter the traditional market and prefer to operate their own businesses. This is one of the tools that we think facilitates that to the benefit of both the state and the veteran community.” 

Megan Sayles is a Report For America Corps member.

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