In his Proclamation naming this Small Business Week, the President explains that “small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstones of America's promise.” Veterans increasingly make up part of that backbone as entrepreneurs translating their service-related skills into job-creating companies.
The number of Veterans early in their careers is on the rise: 74 percent of service-disabled Veterans over the last 10 years are under 30 years old. They are equipped with unique skills as a result of their service, and their Veteran status offers distinct business advantages.
A wide array of services and benefits are available to Veterans in launching a new business. In addition to VA programs like VetSuccess, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS), Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), the new Veteran Fast Launch Initiative, and numerous local programs provide varying degrees of support. The challenge is in knitting it all together and making it work for each Veteran’s individual needs.
As part of the White House-led Startup America initiative, this month the VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2), in partnership with the SBA and the Department of Labor, announced two new business incubators with the sole mission of helping Veteran entrepreneurs get their start by integrating existing services and offering new forms of business support.
The first is a brick-and-mortar facility with locations in Milwaukee, WI, and St. Paul, MN. Veteran Entrepreneurial Transfer (V.E.T.) is a non-profit business incubator providing physical office space and shared services to help new businesses get off the ground. V.E.T. also surrounds the Veteran entrepreneur with experienced mentors who assist the Veteran in everything from evaluating market opportunities and formulating an initial business plan to navigating the challenges of building a company as the business grows.
The second is a virtual, online business accelerator focused initially on Veterans in Roanoke, VA and Philadelphia, PA. The VetSuccess Employment Accelerator (VetSEA) will provide a suite of online tools and resources that assist Veterans in all phases of the entrepreneurial process, from assessing their skills readiness to developing a business plan to launching and building a new company. Veterans will also be connected with business coaches who provide hands-on mentoring throughout the process.
As the Startup America Initiative and National Small Business Week increase the focus on the impact that growth-oriented businesses have on our economy, these new innovations give Veterans a greater opportunity for participation. Veterans are already engaging the Milwaukee site, and early indications point to a win for both our nation’s Veterans and our economy.
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