James Militzer

Weekly Roundup: Natural Born Entrepreneurs: Why veterans make great businesspeople – and how the U.S. could help them succeed

As the U.S. salutes its veterans this Memorial Day, one of their under-appreciated contributions to the country is drawing increasing attention: their affinity for entrepreneurship.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than nonveterans. The agency estimates that about 9 percent of U.S. businesses are veteran-owned, a total of around 2.4 million businesses, representing over $1 trillion in annual sales.

What accounts for veterans’ entrepreneurial bent? To some extent, it may be a response to the perennial challenge of high unemployment among returning servicemen and women, who often struggle to start (or re-start) their careers after a stint in the military. But perhaps to a larger degree, it’s likely the result of their military training itself, which leaves many uniquely suited for the demands of business ownership.

As “Shark Tank”-winning entrepreneur and former Navy SEAL Eli Crane described it in a recent Huffington Post article, “Military veterans have the three Ds: desire, drive and determination. … Entrepreneurs who are in the military or have been in the past are able to problem solve their way through the business battlefield with much more ease than most.” Or as his fellow veteran/Shark Tank investee Rob Dyer put it, somewhat more colorfully, the military teaches you to “be brilliant in the basics, never quit, don’t fall in love with your own plan, and be willing to die before you let someone beat you” – certainly words to live by for many entrepreneurs.

But in spite of the benefits of entrepreneurship among veterans and their unique aptitude for it, many struggle to get their businesses funded. Though some veteran-focused funding and entrepreneur training programs exist, some members of Congress are preparing legislation that would let veterans use their GI Bill benefits (which currently help veterans pay for a college education or vocational training) to start or buy a business instead. Veterans who take advantage of the existing benefits can receive $20,235 a year in tuition, a $2,817 monthly housing allowance, and a yearly stipend of $1,000 for books – a total of $46,588 per year, or $186,352 for a four-year degree. According to retired Marine Corps Major Lynn Lowder, a prominent proponent of the new legislation quoted in a recent Men’s Health article, tapping into these funds for the benefit of entrepreneurs is just good sense. But first, he says, they’d need to have their business plan vetted and approved by an independent board. “And the best thing about it is that unlike the college allotment fund, this is a loan, not a grant. A loan that will be paid back. We’re not just throwing money up in the wind.”

These efforts are inspiring – though one hopes that any public programs that provide loans will take into account the fact that, even for veterans, many (if not most) small businesses will ultimately fail. And among the efforts emerging on multiple fronts to provide veterans with the tools for successful entrepreneurship, I wonder if any will focus specifically on promoting social enterprise. For a group of people who have made great sacrifices to serve their country, this would seem to be a natural alignment. If you’re aware of any such programs, you’re welcome to mention them in the comments section – perhaps we could feature them in future posts.

Editor’s note: As you may have noticed, this week was rather light on content, due to multiple vacationing editors. We’ll get back up to speed on Tuesday; Monday won’t feature any new content, due to the holiday.

James Militzer is the editor of NextBillion Financial Innovation.

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