Last month, I attended an event for the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) in Chicago, and I had the pleasure of hearing retired Colonel Jill Morgenthaler speak. The mother of two served our country in Korea, Berlin, Bosnia, and Iraq. She led strategic communications and public affairs for the commanding general in Iraq in 2004. The Army has awarded her the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star. While her remarks about women and leadership were inspiring, the audience gave her a well-deserved standing ovation for her sacrifice and service to our country.
As a sought-after speaker, Morgenthaler has transitioned comfortably back into her life in the private sector. Unfortunately, not all military personnel enjoy such success. The average unemployment rate for veterans is approximately two points higher than the national average. As we celebrate and honor our veterans this month, it’s important to think about giving back to them for their service to us.
Business programs for veterans
Because of their training, discipline, work ethic, and ability to lead, veterans are ideally suited for business ownership. To help veterans and their families start and grow businesses, the Small Business Association’s Office of Veteran Business Development is the gatekeeper for many government programs and resources. You can learn more about these programs on the SBA’s website, but for this post I want to feature some of the lesser known programs that are helping veterans build new lives for themselves and their families. Here are just a few.
The International Franchise Association created a program called VetFran. It helps returning service members access franchise opportunities through training, financial assistance, and industry support. VetFran’s ranks have grown to include more than 580 franchise systems that voluntarily offer financial incentives and mentoring to prospective veteran franchise small business owners. Thousands of veterans have become franchise owners through VetFran and other programs.
Joining Forces Mentoring Plus.
Women veterans are getting a helping hand in starting their own businesses, thanks to a program created by the National Association of the Self-Employed (NASE) and the Professional Women’s Foundation. The free national program uses both one-on-one coaching and an on-line platform of resources, connecting military spouses and women veterans with professional women mentors and small business experts. The mentoring program is based on a career development model intended for all ranks, ages, and skill levels. A press release from NASE noted women veterans and military spouses are not just starting their own small businesses to create a job for themselves, but they are also helping to rebuild the economy.
Victory Spark is a mentor-driven seed accelerator exclusively for America’s U.S. Military Veterans. Veteran-led start-ups are exposed to a national group of mentors and investors who believe that veterans can be leaders on a new front line – entrepreneurship. Companies selected for the program are provided $20k in early-stage funding in exchange for a small percentage of equity. VictorySpark assists Veteran-led start-ups that focus on advanced technologies. Victory Spark has funded and helped launch 24 new start-ups, collectively raising $1.39 million and creating 89 new jobs.
Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities.
The EVB offers experiential training in entrepreneurship and small business management. The intent of the program is to provide the necessary business fundamentals associated with creating a sustainable business venture. The EBV program is offered entirely free to qualified veterans accepted into the program.
David J. Ketchen, Jr., a volunteer teacher in the program, says, “Many disabled veterans struggle to find jobs and starting their own companies is often their best option. I treasure the opportunity to help lift up people who have put their lives on the line to protect our country.”
Graduating from the EBV program at Florida State in 2011, Chad Shadle wasted no time putting his training to work. Within three months, he had opened two businesses. “I have always had a dream of being my own boss, especially since my injuries have made it difficult for me to be mobile. As far as physicality, I am not the perfect employee and I thought getting a good job was not in my future. I was wrong.”
“My future goal is to become a donor of this program, to have the ability to give back what they gave me; a new and brighter future,” Shadle added.
Veteran Voice Online.
Once a veteran has his or her business up and running, Veterans Voice Online allows them to upload a video advertisement of their businesses for free. The site’s mission is to provide a commercial platform for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces to share and promote their businesses, products and services and then the site shares the videos across other platforms for greater reach.
“We know how expensive advertising and publicity can be when you are starting a new venture. Small businesses and entrepreneurs grow this economy, so our purpose is to grow them,” says Amber Turner, founder of Veteran Voice Online. “Share your video and commercial with us and we will share it. It’s that simple.”
Are you doing business with any of the programs and initiatives helping veterans across the country? Has your small business participated in a program?
Susan Wilson Solovic is an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, author of three best-selling books, multi-media personality and contributor to ABC News and other outlets, public speaker and attorney. AT&T has sponsored this blog post.