Running A Business

A Veteran’s Guide + Resources to Start a Small Business

Oct 12, 2023 • 10+ min read
Veteran applying for a business loan
Table of Contents

      From finance and insurance to mining to real estate, veterans are making an impact in every industry you can imagine. Veterans now own more than 2.5 million businesses in the U.S., and that number doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

      “You go through so much in the military, but really what the military is teaching you is how to be resilient,” said Dawn Halfaker, founder and CEO of Halfaker and Associates. “You plan a mission, and then you execute, but nothing ever goes according to plan. Your job is to continue to lead in not-ideal circumstances.”

      That sounds like entrepreneurship in a nutshell. 

      If you’re a veteran looking to build a business from the ground up, then hold your head high—the odds are in your favor. And fortunately for you, there are concrete fiscal benefits to running a veteran-owned small business, and we want to help you take advantage of all of them. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know to make your business-owning dream a profitable reality. First, let’s make a plan.

      Steps to starting a veteran-owned business.

      1. Come up with your business idea
      2. Create a small business plan
      3. Register your business
      4. Find financing

      1. Come up with your business idea.

      The first step towards starting a veteran-owned business is to come up with a compelling business idea. A good starting point is to reflect on your personal interests and passion. What are you deeply passionate about? Where do your strengths lie? A business built around your passion and skills is likely to keep you motivated during tough times.

      Additionally, consider the skills and experience you acquired during your time in the military. Your unique training and perspective can provide a solid foundation for a security consultancy firm or a logistics company, for example.

      Also, consider the needs of your local community. Is there a service or product the community lacks? Providing a solution to a local problem can give rise to a successful business.

      Finally, don’t shy away from seeking advice from other veteran entrepreneurs and business professionals. Their experience and insights can prove invaluable in helping you refine your business idea.

      2. Create a small business plan.

      Before you start building your business, you need a plan. Your plan will be the roadmap to your success. Where are you currently? Where do you want to be one year, five years, and 10 years from now? What do you need to do to get there? Your business plan will help you answer these critical questions, and these answers will guide your business like Siri guides your car—except better.

      Don’t have a business plan yet? No problem. Take an hour or a day (or a week) to walk through our “Step-by-Step Guide to Writing a Business Plan.” This guide will help you decide which industry you should target and what kind of business you should build. Where is their demand? What startup would be best served by your skillset?

      Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!” You’d probably nod your head at that. Then, you might tack on a well-known quote from the film Valkyrie: “Remember, this is a military operation. Nothing ever goes according to plan.” Then, we would take our turn to nod ours.

      Entrepreneurship is full of surprises and unknown variables. You can’t plan for everything, and even when you do, everything could still go wrong. That’s where your resilient attribute really comes in handy. When faced with challenges, others would likely throw in the towel, but you’ve been trained to grit your teeth and fight through the hard times.

      If you’re struggling to come up with a viable business plan, don’t stress too much. There are plenty of veteran-specific resources we’ll discuss later that will help you fill in all the critical details. Free education, training, mentorship, online courses—there are tools available for whatever you need to find the best path forward.

      Now, with your plan in hand, it’s time to start building your business. Where do we begin? You’ll need to register your business, so let’s start there.

      3. Register your business.

      The process of registering your business involves several steps, each crucial to ensuring that your business operates legally and efficiently. Here’s a simplified guide to get you on the right track:

      Step 1: Decide on a business structure

      Before registering your business, decide on the type of business structure that best suits your needs. The structure you choose will impact your tax obligations and legal liabilities. The most common types include sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.

      Step 2: Choose a business name

      Once your business structure is defined, the next step is selecting a name. Make sure to conduct a thorough search to ensure the name you’ve chosen isn’t already in use or trademarked.

      Step 3: Register your business name

      After settling on a unique business name, you must register it. The process varies depending on your state and the structure of your business. For example, if you’re operating as an LLC or corporation, the business name will typically be registered when you file your articles of incorporation or organization.

      Step 4: Get a federal tax ID

      Also known as an employer identification number (EIN), a Federal Tax ID is necessary for tax purposes and is also often required to open a business bank account. You can apply for an EIN through the IRS website.

      Step 5: Apply for state and local tax IDs

      Depending on your state and the nature of your business, you may need to apply for state and local tax IDs. Check the requirements in your specific area.

      Step 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

      Depending on your type of business and your location, you may need specific permits or licenses to operate. Check with your local and state government to see what’s required.

      Step 7: Register with the VA

      As a veteran-owned business, register with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to potentially qualify for government contracts.

      Remember, each state has different rules and regulations for business registration. It’s recommended that you seek legal advice when registering your business to ensure all legal requirements are met.

      4. Find financing.

      You can find a variety of financing options for your veteran-owned business. You could secure veteran-specific programs and grants or debt financing.

      Veteran financing programs

      In addition to generic business loans, you can find several financing options that are veteran-specific. 

      1. Veterans Business Fund (VBF)

      The VBF is a nonprofit organization formed to help a growing number of unemployed veterans get access to supplemental capital to qualify for small business loans. So if you’re struggling to qualify for a loan because you don’t have the necessary base capital, apply for help from the VBF.

      2. Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (MREIDL)

      This interesting financing option is run by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). MREIDL provides funds to small businesses that have been impacted by a leader or critical employee being called up to active duty with the reserves. Veterans can apply for this loan within one year of returning from active duty, but some of the terms last up to 30 years.

      3. Hivers and Strivers

      If you’re a veteran who graduated from a U.S. military academy, you may qualify for financing from Hivers and Strivers. Hivers and Strivers is an angel investment group that focuses on early-stage startups. Most of the group’s founders and leaders have served in the military, so they’re all about supporting young veteran entrepreneurs.

      4.SBA Express Loan Program 

      Veterans can have the upfront guarantee fee waived if they qualify for an SBA Express loan. Maximum funding through the SBA Express Loan Program is capped at $350,000, but that’s really the only downside to this financing option.

      5. Lendio

      Lendio’s marketplace can help you find the right veteran business loan, even if you’ve already been turned down by a bank. With a 15-minute application, we’ll connect you with a loan from our network of more than 75 lenders.

      This list is by no means definitive, but it’s a great place to start looking for veteran-specific financing options.

      Veteran Grants

      Grants are considered by many to be the holy grail of business financing. Unlike loans, which a borrower must pay back with interest, grants are awarded for a specific purpose, with no repayment requirements. However, VA grants tend to be more difficult to secure than loans. Each grant has its own specific requirements, so do your research before applying to get the best shot of being approved.

      Here are a few of the VA grant options available:

      Honor Courage Commitment’s Veteran Entrepreneur Training Program

      The Veteran Entrepreneur Training (VET) program grant gives you a chance to attend training sessions at the HCC Veteran Business Center in Dallas, Texas. It also offers the opportunity to receive grants for specific phases of your business, including building your idea and getting legal help, as well as the building phase, where you’ll receive aid for advertising. They also provide training about other forms of business financing.

      Second Service Foundation’s Military Entrepreneur Challenge

      If you are an ambitious veteran looking to make your mark in the business world, the Second Service Foundation’s Military Entrepreneur Challenge could be an excellent opportunity for you. The Military Entrepreneur Challenge is a grant competition wherein veterans submit their business plans for scrutiny by a panel of experts. Winners of this competition are awarded grants that they can use to kick-start or expand their businesses. This challenge is not just about the grant money; it’s also an avenue to receive valuable feedback about your business plan and a chance to connect with a network of successful entrepreneurs and investors


      Title aside, this isn’t an actual grant. However, it does showcase resources and grants available to veterans, including business grants. It’s worth keeping an eye on this site because the offerings change frequently and have different deadlines.

      Veteran-owned small business resources.

      Money is only one part (although a large one) of building a business. You also need the know-how to use that money wisely. Veterans can gain this know-how and get a leg up on the competition with access to several veteran-specific small business resources. There are a lot of resources available, but here are a few of our favorites:

      Patriot Boot Camp

      Patriot Boot Camp (PBC) is an accelerator program (presented by Techstars) that helps veterans and their spouses create tech companies. PBC’s flagship program is a free three-day event that includes education training and one-on-one mentorship. If you’re thinking of starting a tech startup, trust PBC to give you the tools and talents you need to kick things off with a bang.

      Veteran Business Outreach Centers

      The SBA provides veteran-specific business training all over the U.S. right in the heart of their communities. Check the SBA’s local assistance page to find a center near you. These Veterans Business Outreach Centers offer training, counseling, and mentorship to help you start and grow your business. Plus, the professionals helping you are from your community—so they’ll be best positioned to answer your questions and guide you in the right direction.

      Boots to Business

      Boots to Business (B2B) is another SBA-offered program that provides business and entrepreneurship training to veterans. Registrants start with a two-day, in-person program to learn the fundamentals. Afterward, participants can advance their studies with a free, eight-week online course that walks students through creating their business plan and other critical elements of a startup. 

      Veteran Entrepreneur Portal

      The VA’s Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP) is a go-to resource for all things startup. Whether you’re looking for best practices, financing, government contracting opportunities, or training, the VEP has it all and much more. All veteran business owners should spend some time scrolling through the incredible amount of free information and resources on this platform.

      Warrior Rising – VetToCEO Business Accelerator

      Warrior Rising is a non-profit organization committed to empowering U.S. military veterans and their immediate family members by providing them with the resources to start and grow their own businesses.

      The organization’s flagship offering is the VetToCEO Business Accelerator program. It’s designed to help veterans transition from service to entrepreneurship. The program is a seven-week online course that takes participants through a step-by-step process of launching their own businesses. Each week, participants are required to complete assigned tasks related to their business. These assignments are reviewed and critiqued by established veteran entrepreneurs, providing valuable feedback and guidance.

      In addition to the accelerator program, Warrior Rising also provides ongoing mentorship, networking opportunities, and access to capital to help veteran businesses grow and prosper. The organization not only fosters entrepreneurial skills, but also helps veterans create sustainable businesses that contribute to the economy and create jobs.

      Thank you for your service.

      Free resources, simple financing, and federal contracts won’t come close to repaying you for the service you’ve rendered to our country, but hopefully, they can play an important role in getting your veteran-owned business off the ground. 

      Let’s be honest. You don’t need any of these additional advantages, but they sure can help. You now have a business plan, financing to get it off the ground, veteran certification, and every resource you could imagine. Plus, you have the training, experience, discipline, and leadership to create a successful business. Now you just need to take action to make your business-owning dream a reality.

      There’s a reason close to half of all American World War II veterans went on to become business owners. You notice problems and work hard to find solutions. You have the tenacity to fight for what you believe in, even if it’s not easy.

      We thank you for your military service to our country, and we hope you can continue to make America a great place in a different capacity. As a small business owner, you can still play a significant role in your community, the government, our country, and the world. Now go get after it, entrepreneur.

      About the author
      Jesse Sumrak

      Jesse Sumrak is a Social Media Manager for SendGrid, a leading digital communication platform. He's created and managed content for startups, growth-stage companies, and publicly-traded businesses. Jesse has spent almost a decade writing about small business and entrepreneurship topics, having built and sold his own post-apocalyptic fitness bootstrapped startup. When he's not dabbling in digital marketing, you'll find him ultrarunning in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Jesse studied Public Relations at Brigham Young University.

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