When it comes to small business in America, veterans have always played a prominent role. SmallBusiness.com estimates that more than 2.5 million businesses are majority-owned by those who have served in the military. That accounts for about 9% of the nation’s nation’s total businesses. And their contributions to the economy aren’t chump change, as they drum up about $1.14 trillion in annual revenues. And payroll for these veteran-owned businesses produces a total of $195 billion each year. Of course, there’s always room for improvement. As with all businesses in America, where the odds are stacked against female and minority entrepreneurs, there’s not enough diversity in veteran-owned businesses. About 84% are currently owned by men, and minorities only account for 15% of the total. To help veterans from all backgrounds have a better shot at entrepreneurial success, Bank of America has recently announced a Veteran Entrepreneur Lending Program that will help small business owners get affordable financing to start or grow their businesses. “Helping our veterans translate their skills and become entrepreneurs driving the U.S. economy is one of the ways Bank of America is thanking them for their service,” said Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan in a press release. The program consists of $20 million that will become available via loans from participating community development financial institutions (CDFIs). These nonprofit institutions are well-positioned for helping veterans because they understand the nuances of doing business in their local neighborhoods. Bank of America is no stranger to partnering with CDFIs, as it’s one of the largest investors in the nation, with $1.6 billion in financing to more than 260 CDFIs in all 50 states. To start out, the program will launch in North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, New York, California, Texas, and Oklahoma. Select CDFIs in those states will be empowered to administer loans with reduced interest rates to those who qualify. To prime the pump even more, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation is also providing $1.3 million in grants to help these CDFIs manage operating costs. Part of the qualification process for entrepreneurs involves participating in a two-month training program that provides technical assistance and other resources to help them get the tools necessary to grow their businesses and experience sustainable success. The Veteran Entrepreneur Lending Program will have a substantial impact, as there are more than 200,000 U.S. service members who return to civilian life each year. Of those individuals, about 10% have a strong desire to own a business. “We started the business in 2016 and to see it continually grow since then has been incredibly rewarding,” said Marc Smith, a veteran who started a restaurant with help from the program. “Being able to get a loan was a game-changer and an important factor in our ability to grow our business.” To celebrate the start of this new program, Bank of America hosted an event on Capitol Hill called “Empowering Small Businesses to Drive Economic Growth.” The event highlighted success stories like Smith’s and featured speakers including SBA Associate Administrator Bill Manger and Bank of America Head of Small Business Sharon Miller.