veteran small business ownersFor many years, veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces were successful at starting and growing small businesses. In fact, almost 50 percent of veterans owned a business after World War II.

But today, veteran entrepreneurship is on the decline. The most recent Kauffman Foundation research found that veterans accounted for 12.6 percent of new entrepreneurs in 1996 and that by 2014, this number had fallen to just 5.6 percent.

At New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC), we want to turn those numbers around by inspiring veterans to take the leap into a life of entrepreneurship, and sharing some information to help you get started. As a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, I have seen firsthand the driven young men and women who have served in our military. The honorable completion of an active-duty period of military service or ongoing participation in the National Guard or Reserve generally tends to “imprint” veterans with certain skills and experiences that are critical to success.

Top 5 traits that make veterans great entrepreneurs

1. Discipline

The hallmark of an effective military force is discipline, and the ability to respond immediately to lawful orders, without regard for one’s own personal safety or well-being; it is developed as part of basic training for all service members. Veterans also develop the ability to stick with difficult tasks and see them through to completion, working in accordance with a (sometimes) well-developed plan.

How does this help entrepreneurs?

Many obstacles lie in the path of even the most well-prepared entrepreneurs. Discipline is a trait that enables veterans to focus on accomplishing goals, despite whatever challenges are encountered along the way.

2. Resourcefulness

Most, if not all, veterans have faced the challenges of completing tasks and objectives without access to tools and resources that would “ideally” be available. Despite this, the job gets done!

How does this help entrepreneurs?

The ability to use what’s available and at-hand is an essential skill set for entrepreneurs, who must continuously find ways to stretch resources, improve products, and attract customers. Like entrepreneurs, the active-duty military members are frequently tasked with finding innovative solutions to problems—sometimes, with life-or-death consequences—which hones the abilities to be thoughtful, decisive, and creative.

3. Boldness

Battles are not won on defense. While it’s important to be careful in all things, success is not something the timid frequently enjoy because rewards flow from risk.

How does this help entrepreneurs?

Veterans have been schooled in the courage required to be successful on the battlefield and in life, including entrepreneurial life. They are empowered, resilient, and persistent when working toward their goals. They’re not likely to quit at the first signs of challenge and are energized by healthy competition.

4. Leadership

All veterans have been exposed to leadership, and these experiences—whether good or bad—help them identify what types of leaders they want to be and how to accomplish that. Many veterans have also had the privilege of being in leadership positions and have developed experience both as leaders and as followers.

How does this help entrepreneurs?

Ultimately, effective leaders inspire confidence, loyalty, and commitment in their teams, resulting in achievements that stem from harnessing a healthy combination of skills that effectively lead to a common goal.

Good leadership—which is also exemplified by vision, determination, and sound ethics—is increasingly elusive but can be found throughout the ranks in the U.S. military, and is highly desirable in business.

5. Accomplishment

All veterans have enjoyed feelings of accomplishment and crave opportunities to replicate those achievements. They know what it means to graduate from challenging basic training courses, earn promotions, or jump out of airplanes.

How does this help entrepreneurs?

Veterans who have experienced success and accomplishment develop a real appreciation for what it takes to make things happen. They also know that working toward goals produces intangible rewards from the incomparable feeling of a job well done!

What’s holding veterans back from entrepreneurship?

According to research from the Kauffman Foundation, the drop in the percentage of veterans-as-entrepreneurs is due, in part, to the fact that there are fewer veterans among the general U.S. population than there were decades ago.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Many veterans are dedicated individuals who already have the skills needed to successfully open and run businesses. It can be daunting, though, to sort through how to get started, from planning and securing funding, to honing in on marketing and improving financial management skills.

Resources for veterans looking to start their own business

Visit the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs Office of Small & Disadvantaged Businesses website for information on small-business programs for veteran-owned small business (VOSB) certification and service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses (SDVOBs). These programs can provide veteran-owned certified businesses with competitive advantages when bidding on federal and state contracts.

There are numerous resources specifically developed to assist veterans who are starting or growing a business. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Boots to Business program, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities program, and V-WISE: Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship program all include online and in-person training that covers every step of the entrepreneurial process.

Finally, contact a local small business resource, like a local lending organization or your local SBA office. These resources offer a range of educational and mentoring programs covering everything from financial management and basic business accounting to branding, marketing, distribution, and expansion.

For example, at NYBDC we offer a Veteran Loan Program, which provides term loans at a below-market fixed rate for current or former members of the U.S. armed forces. These loans can be used as startup loans or to help New York state-based small businesses recover after business owners have served military duty, and are suitable for working capital, business acquisition, and toward the purchase of machinery, real estate, and equipment. If you or your business is located outside of New York state, you’ll find other resources that can help you here.

Keep in mind that much like life in the military, you don’t want or need to go at it alone. Veterans are uniquely positioned to find success and fulfillment through entrepreneurship, and there are many resources available to help you get started.  

AvatarPatrick MacKrell

Patrick J. MacKrell is CEO of New York Business Development Corporation (NYBDC), The 504 Company and Excelsior Growth Fund. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, having served at several posts and stations prior to his release from active duty as a Major. As a mission-driven lending organization, our goal is to ensure that all entrepreneurs can access the resources needed to start or grow successful businesses. If we can help you find financing for your endeavor, please contact us today.