Is the solution to joblessness among veterans, entrepreneurship? Career experts think so. According to the Small Business Administration, military veterans are almost twice as likely as non-veterans to start their own business, but their unemployment rate stands at 6.7 percent as of February, and has been consistently higher than the national average.
During an interview with CNBC, Michael Zacchea, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and director of the University of Connecticut’s Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, said “This gap is a nut that’s hard to crack, but I actually truly believe that veteran-owned businesses are going to be the thing that heals our country in the next 15 years.” So for veterans ready to take the entrepreneurial leap, entrepreneur.com compiled a list of programs to help you get started.
1. The Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities. In partnership with Syracuse University, the SBA is expanding its free “boot camp” training program to veterans at eight business school campuses across the U.S. Specifically targeted to service-disabled veterans, women, National Guard and Reserve members and their families of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the program is designed to leverage the country’s infrastructure of higher education to teach would-be entrepreneurs the skills and resources necessary to start up. Veterans will also learn about small-business management and financing.
Participating campuses includes: Syracuse University, Cornell University, E.J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University, the University of Connecticut School of Business, Mays Business School at Texas A&M, UCLA Anderson School of Management, Florida State University’s College of Business, and the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University.
2. Operation Endure and Grow. Aimed at National Guard and Reserve members, Operation Endure and Grow gives them, their families and business partners, access to online training courses focused on the fundamentals of launching or growing a small business. This program, offered by the Whitman School of Management in cooperation with the SBA, offers service personnel courses on crafting a business or nonprofit plan. In addition, they’ll receive ideas for presenting to investors, lenders or other financial backers.
3. Veteran Fast Launch Initiative. Veterans can access training to become entrepreneurs through the Veterans Fast Launch program, which SCORE (formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives) launched in partnership with organizations and companies, such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Hewlett-Packard. The program offers free software, mentoring and training to veterans, active-duty personnel and their families. Discounts on services, like getting incorporated, are also available to participants, as are scholarships to attend SCORE’s Simple Steps for Starting Your Business workshops at 360 SCORE chapters across the U.S.
4. Veterans as Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship. The SBA, along with the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, launched a program aimed at helping female veterans launch businesses or grow existing firms. The program called Veterans as Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, or V-WISE, is available in seven U.S. cities and accepts 200 veterans per city.
After a 15-day online introduction to business that focuses on building entrepreneurship skills, participants are asked to attend one of several three-day conferences held at various times and places across the U.S. through 2013. At the event, would-be and current female veteran entrepreneurs — as well as transitioning active-duty personnel — can take courses on topics from human resources and marketing, to finance and business planning. The registration fee is $75 and participants are required to pay for their own travel, but their hotel rooms are paid for by the SBA.
5. Patriot Express Pilot Loan. The SBA provides funding and support for small-business lending, including a dedicated lending program for veteran entrepreneurs. The SBA backed more than 4,300 loans, totaling $1.5 billion in its flagship 7(a) and 504 programs lending to veterans in 2011. Since 2007, the Patriot Express pilot loan initiative, which boasts faster turnaround times than other SBA programs, has guaranteed loans of more than $667 million to nearly 8,100 veterans, reservists and their spouses, to start or expand a small business. In its 2011 fiscal year, the SBA authorized more than 1,560 loans totaling $142 million. The program has been extended through 2013.
For information about other programs that aren’t listed above, head to the SBA’s veterans site. Veterans can also find help at any of the SBA’s 68 district offices, 15 Veterans Business Outreach Centers, more than 1,000 Small Business Development Centers, 110 Women’s Business Centers, and the many SCORE volunteers.