Vetrepreneurs: Helping Our Vets Start Their Own Businesses

Ed. Note: This week the Obama Administration celebrating America’s entrepreneurs and small businesses as part of National Entrepreneurship WeekJoin Commerce Secretary Gary Locke this Friday at 1 p.m. for a live chat on entrepreneurship and innovation.

National Entrepreneurship Week follows Veterans Day, the annual moment for Americans to honor all who served.  This week, let’s remember that Military Veterans gain valuable experience from their service to our country, making them a sought-after member of the American workforce.  They are innovative, dedicated, and trained in the most cutting-edge technologies.  Their leadership skills often drive them to entrepreneurship in America’s start-up economy where more jobs are created than in any other sector.

Entrepreneurship is an attractive option for Veterans, but the challenges of starting a new business can be tough.  Therefore, across the federal government, a wide array of options serves Veterans interested in overcoming these barriers and starting their own businesses – call them Vetrepreneurs.

Through a partnership between the Small Business Administration (SBA) and several of America’s top universities, Veterans can now receive high-quality training, networking, and mentoring through the Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for service-disabled Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) program provides training to women veterans interested in learning about entrepreneurship and starting, running or growing a business.  And Operation Endure & Grow is a new program providing National Guard and Reserve members, and their families, online training focused on the fundamentals of both launching and growing a small business.  The Veteran Business Outreach Center Program (VBOC) offers outreach, counseling, training, and online assistance for Vetrepreneurs.

Financial assistance is also available, through programs such as the Patriot Express Loan program and the Military Reservists Economic Injury Disaster loans, both managed by the SBA.

Several other opportunities exist, too.  But because no single, one-stop-shop resource exists to help Vetrepreneurs navigate these and other services, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – through the VA Innovation Initiative – is investing in the concept of an “Integrated Business Accelerator” to provide a single, end-to-end resource to guide Veterans from the first steps in considering a start-up, to establishing a new business, to finding ways to grow and expand a successful operation.

For those small businesses already run by Veterans, competing in the Federal marketplace against large and established companies can be a major challenge to growth.  Veteran-owned small businesses can enhance their ability to compete for federal contracts by participating in a Mentor-Protégé Program through SBA or VA.  The Federal Contractor Certification (FCC) Program likewise trains Veterans to compete in the contracting process.  Additionally, monthly Vendor Day Counseling Sessions educate all businesses on contracting with VA, which spends $15 billion every year in acquisitions serving the mission.  Veterans can also take advantage of a new online contracting tutorial.

This administration – as with all Americans – is committed to honoring our Veterans in meaningful ways.  These opportunities illustrate real ways in which your government and others do their part for Vetrepreneurs.  But even more can be done.  Stay tuned for more exciting news in the New Year.

Jonah Czerwinski is Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and serves as Director of the VA Innovation Initiative at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

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