The strength of any nation, in many respects, lies in the vibrancy of its economy, which in turn, is largely driven by the energy of its small businesses. As we navigate the complexities of a post-pandemic world, it is essential to recognize the crucial role that veteran-owned small businesses play in our economy. They are not just an important component of our economic machinery; they are the lifeblood of our communities and a testament to our commitment to those who have served.
Veterans bring a unique set of skills and experiences to the entrepreneurial landscape. The attributes fostered during military service – discipline, perseverance, leadership, and the ability to work under high-stress situations – translate well into the world of business. In fact, as of September 2021, veteran-owned firms represent about 9.1% of all U.S. businesses, together generating more than $1 trillion in receipts and employing nearly 5.8 million individuals.
However, despite their potential, the businesses often face considerable challenges. Access to capital, gaining a foothold in competitive markets, and navigating complex regulatory landscapes are but a few of the hurdles that veteran entrepreneurs often encounter. It is in addressing these challenges that we, as a society, must make a concerted effort.
Under the leadership of Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, the SBA announced $3.5 million in grant awards to support outreach organizations focused on veteran small businesses. The grants have been used to create new Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) in Alaska, California, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, Nevada, and South Carolina. The expansion of the VBOC program from 22 to 28 locations ensure that all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa have access to these services. This expansion aims to extend support to a greater number of transitioning service members, veterans, National Guard and Reserve members, and military spouses. By aiding them in initiating and developing their businesses, the administration is also fostering economic growth.
The SBA and VBOC offer a variety of support services for veteran entrepreneurs, but we need to ensure these resources are reaching the people who need them most. The SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) provides access to capital and preparation for small business opportunities, as well as connections to federal procurement and commercial supply chains. In addition, the SBA offers various funding programs specifically for veteran-owned businesses, such as the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (MREIDL), which provides funds to help an eligible small business meet its ordinary and necessary operating expenses that it could have met, but is unable to, because an essential employee was called-up to active duty in his or her role as a military reservist.
Moreover, the SBA runs specialized entrepreneurship training programs for veterans, including Boots to Business, which offers entrepreneurship training to veterans globally. Other programs are tailored for specific groups within the veteran community, such as the Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (WVETP) for women veterans and the Service-Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program for service-disabled veterans.
Supporting veteran-owned small businesses is an investment in our future. Their success can lead to job creation, driving down unemployment rates and fueling economic growth. They stimulate local economies, fostering community development and promoting a cycle of prosperity that benefits us all.
Furthermore, supporting these businesses is also a matter of equity. Veterans have risked their lives to protect our freedoms. They have made sacrifices that most of us cannot even begin to comprehend. It is our duty to ensure that they have the opportunities they need to thrive in their post-military lives.
Government policies and initiatives are critical, but they are not enough. We must also foster a culture that values and supports veteran entrepreneurship. This means encouraging private sector involvement, from large corporations to individual consumers. This can take various forms, from prioritizing veteran-owned businesses in procurement processes to consciously choosing to patronize these businesses as consumers.
Financial institutions can play a significant role as well. By providing favorable lending terms, they can alleviate some of the financial challenges that veteran entrepreneurs often face. Mentorship programs can also play a key role, helping veterans navigate the complex world of business and offering advice on everything from marketing strategies to financial planning.
In conclusion, the importance of supporting veteran-owned small businesses cannot be overstated. They are not just businesses; they are a testament to the resilience of those who have served us. As we navigate the complexities of the post-pandemic world, we must make a concerted effort to support these businesses. The strength of our economy – and our commitment to those who have served – depends on it.
For more information on how the SBA can assist your small business start, grow, or expand, please visit www.sba.gov. Also, remember to follow us on Twitter @SBAGreatPlains.
Mindy Brissey is the US Small Business Administration’s Region 7 Administrator based in Kansas City. She oversees the agency’s programs and services for the Great Plains serving Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.