CLINTON, Md. — From soldier to CEO is a more natural transition than many veterans realize. A large support network has sprung up to help vets start their own businesses, but many do not know it exists.
On Tuesday night the Small Business Administration and VetFran partnered with Marriott’s TownPlace Suites to host a workshop aimed at educating veterans on the basics of entrepreneurship as well as special programs available to former service members. The two biggest components for veterans preparing to start their own business are choosing the right kind of business for them and securing capital, they said.
They also recommended that aspiring business owners take time to think about their passion.
“If they’ve always wanted to own their own business they should definitely write down what they’re passionate about, what their interests are, what they want to do,” said Paul C. Rocchio, senior director of development and member services of International Franchise Association, which owns the franchising organization, Vet Fran. “Maybe tie it into what they did in their military service – what kind of responsibility, what kind of job they had.”
VetFran Manager George Eldridge works with veterans every day
He helped an Air Force veteran start a franchise in his living room and garage that has become so successful the vet has opened a showroom and warehouse.
“He is in his third year of franchising and in the program and doing great,” he said.
Eldridge encourages vets interested in business ownership to do their research and examine all possibilities.
“In the military you think ‘I can’t fail,’ but sometimes you have to think about the risks you’re getting into and have a balance expectation when getting into something like this,” he said.
Veterans interested in franchise ownership may find a good match for their interests on Vet Fran’s website, which offers a plethora of options, he said. Over 100 different industries franchise, the most active being food, followed by hospitality, home-based businesses, childcare and pet care.
Contacting SBA is also a good place to start, advised Laurie Sayles Artis, a Marine vet who owns Civility Management Solutions, a management consulting firm.
“The reason I say that is because they are free mentors there to do just that,” she said. It’s a cost-effective way to decide what area a vet wants to work in compared with paying for training that turns out to be in an area outside of the vet’s passion.
“I’ve watched people fumble through who didn’t know what business they were getting into before they got there,” she said. “I highly recommend no training until you decide what training you want to get.”
Financing opportunities also abound for veterans. The Small Business Administration, which has 68 field offices around the United States and 1,000 resource partners, has Veterans Business Outreach Centers throughout the country offering information on how to gain access to capital.
For veteran-specific programs, the SBA helps businesses obtain reduced loan fees for any loan under $350,000.
Earlier this year, the SBA also launched LINC, Leveraging Information and Networks to Access Capital, an online tool that simplifies the connection between loan seekers and lenders. By answering just a few questions, an applicant can reach out to lenders all over the country.
“If you qualify for something, and even if it’s maybe a non-traditional loan or a micro-loan, the lender will reach back out to you and say hey, maybe this is we can talk about and this is the next level,” Chris James, a SBA assistant administrator said.
At least 3,000 vets have used LINC to make a connection since the program launched two months ago.
“That doesn’t mean it translates into a loan exactly, but at least it’s linking up a business with a potential lender all around the country, and not just your bank,” James said.
VetFran does not provide financing, but, like LINC, it connects veterans to help with funding, working closely with the Small Business Association and lenders within its supplier group to help them afford the franchise opportunity they want.
Those shopping for a franchise can expect to pay from $10,000 to $20,000 for a home-based business, Rocchio said, to in the millions for a McDonald’s or hotel brand, with options everywhere in between.
“Our members that are participating in the Vet Fran program are offering their franchise at a discounted rate or in some cases are waving the initial franchise fee to make it easier for [veterans] to become an owner operator and to own their own business,” he said.
Rocchio and the other speakers urged veterans to think like entrepreneurs and be aggressive in reaching out for help.
“As veterans you do have a few more opportunities than some other folks,” he said.
Text by Holly LaFon. Video by Nick Kariuki.