As a veteran, you proudly served your country. Now, you want to serve your local community by opening a small business. Being a veteran entrepreneur comes with many perks, including qualifying for special grants, funding, and discounts.
It’s one reason veteran-owned ventures make up nearly 6% of businesses in the U.S.
For example, the federal government plans to use 3% of its contracting budget for small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.
There are various other funding opportunities to support your business dreams. But to take advantage, you must know where to look — and below are a few places to start.
Veteran small-business grants
Veterans have a range of small-business grants dedicated to helping them reach their business ownership goals. A grant is free money given to people to fund a business startup, idea, or expansion. It’s different from a loan, since it doesn’t require you to repay the grantor.
1. Warrior Rising Small Business Grants
Warrior Rising is a nonprofit that offers grants to help veterans cover startup costs such as equipment, tools, and supplies. Vets can get funding by presenting their business idea in a pitch competition.
It also provides educational opportunities, such as its six-step business development program that provides training, coaching, networking, and one-on-one mentoring to veterans and their spouses.
Veterans can join the program by applying online, then participating in a phone interview to go over their background and learn about the program process. You’re required to take a virtual course before receiving mentoring and funding assistance.
To qualify for Warrior Rising Small Business Grants, you must be a US military veteran or an immediate family member of one. Both startups and established businesses can apply.
Just recently, Warrior Rising received $105k from the SBA, which will go towards funding business education for vetrepreneurs and their families. Plus, it hosted a competition for a $20k grant — 15 veterans competed and a vet’s spouse, Kayla Corbitt, won.
2. Second Service Foundation
The Second Service Foundation, once known as the StreetShares Foundation, is another nonprofit created to train and fund veteran business owners. Its community provides programs and educational resources regarding:
- Mental health
- Health care
- Children and families
- Unemployment and underemployment
- Homelessness and disaster relief
The organization also offers networking events, mentorship, and more, while it supports veterans financially through its grant program, Military Entrepreneur Challenge.
To apply to the grant, you must create a video pitch, submit an application online, and pass an in-person interview. If you’re one of the three selected, you can pitch your business idea to win the top prize. In 2019, the three winners received $4k, $6k, and $15k, respectively.
VetFran isn’t a grant program for veterans, but it offers a business opportunity to those who want to open a franchise. It connects veterans with franchisors, so they can buy one at a discounted rate.
Although vets make up about 7% of the population, around 14% of franchise owners are vets, showing it’s a popular business option.
VetFran’s program reduces or waives the initial franchise fee by 10% to 100%, and you can search through 600+ franchises in its online database. All franchisors in its network must meet criteria and have a clean audit report.
You’ll also find resources on its site about franchise ownership and financing.
4. State and local government programs
Some states have government programs that assist veteran business owners. Check with your local chamber of commerce to see what grant opportunities are available.
For example, the Maryland Department of Commerce has the Military Personnel and Veteran-Owned Small Business Loan Program (MPVOLP), which gives no-interest loans to vets that have one-year to eight-year terms.
The no-interest loans range between $1k and $50k. To be eligible, you must be a veteran, national guard, or military reservist small-business owner with fewer than 50 employees.
Another option is to check with your city’s or state’s Economic Development Administration to find grants and other funding sources. Additionally, there are universities that offer funding to small- business owners.
For example, Texas Woman’s University has the Veteran Women Entrepreneur Grant that gives $5k awards to female vet entrepreneurs. The annual grant funds 10 business owners in the state. The money can be used for business expenses like technology, marketing, and equipment.
To qualify, the company must be at least 51% owned or controlled by women, operate in Texas, and meet other criteria.
5. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce grants funding to small businesses through its Dream Big Awards. Winners receive $25k and are chosen annually. The awards also have a special category for veteran-owned businesses.
To apply, you must be a for-profit business operating in the US that’s at least one year old. And you must have fewer than 250 employees and generate less than $20m in annual revenue.
Disabled veteran small-business funding
There’s special funding for veterans with disabilities.
The Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program is an SBA (Small Business Administration) program that helps disabled vets secure government contracts.
It’s not a grant, though — it’s an opportunity to grow your business through increased revenue.
To qualify, the venture must be at least 51% owned or controlled by service-disabled vets. It must also have one or more service-disabled vets managing daily operations and making long-term decisions for the business.
You can register for the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program on its website.
Resources for veteran entrepreneurs
Grant programs are one option for starting and growing a business. There are a variety of other resources available to veteran entrepreneurs.
Here’s a look at a few:
- GrantWatch: A site that collects a mix of federal, regional, and local small-business grants. You can filter the options by selecting “small business” as the recipient, your location, and the category of grant (in this case, veterans).
- Boots to Business (B2B): Offers free two-day training and education to all entrepreneurs. The program is available through the SBA and trains vets and their spouses about owning a business. After completing the two-day in-person course, you can receive more business training through the B2B Revenue Readiness course.
- Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization: Helps vets find federal contracts and franchise opportunities, and offers training and employment programs. Check out the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal to find resources.
- Veterans Business Outreach Centers: Provides vets with training and tools needed to launch startups, such as workshops, management training, and mentorship. Since it’s a part of SBA, you can also find small-business funding opportunities.
- Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship: Offers veteran women a three-phase entrepreneurship program with a 12-month mentorship. The program includes resources, a 15-day online course, and a three-day in-person event. It costs $75 and is available to honorably discharged women and active-duty service members.
- Veteran Institute for Procurement: Provides training to vet and disabled vet business owners in the US. It also helps vets land federal contracts. Plus, it has business accelerator training programs for vets with startups or established businesses. By becoming a member, you get access to networking and educational events, and community support.