A Veteran’s Handbook to Starting Up a Small Business

(We’re here to help you make the leap from soldier to entrepreneur.)
Veteran businesswoman listening to a podcast on her smart phone

Strength, discipline, integrity and some serious cutting-edge skills. These are just a few of the thousand-or-so qualities that make so many veterans perfect for running their own small business. But you probably already know that, right? And even better yet, you don’t have to go into this alone. No matter what stage your small business is in, there are tons of resources out there made just for you.

In fact, we’ve brought in a friend of ours, small business expert and mentor Len Briskman, to help us lay out all the ins and outs of getting a small business started, specifically for veterans. So whether you’ve already got funding and a master plan in mind—or you still haven’t taken that first step—we’re here to help. Let’s get started.

What Qualifies as a Veteran-Owned Small Business?

A veteran-owned business is exactly what it sounds like: a business owned by a military veteran. If you’ve served in the military, you almost certainly qualify—even if you were never deployed to a combat zone, according to small business expert Len Briskman.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is the government agency that provides the most support to veteran-owned businesses, especially through coaching and mentoring. Sometimes they also provide interest-free financing. This is coordinated through their Office of Veterans Business Development.

If you’re a vet who wants to get those big business dreams started, you should start by finding a mentor who’s already made the plunge. Nonprofits like SCORE, where Briskman works as a mentor, work to connect new and established entrepreneurs of all types, including veterans. The SBA also offers these services.

Once you’ve connected with a mentor, you can get started on a business plan, which is the first step you’ll take before applying for a loan.

What Is a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business?

Veterans who were disabled in the line of duty qualify for additional support if they meet certain criteria. The government reserves certain contracts for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses. This means you’ll have less competition when bidding for these contracts, increasing your odds.

According to the SBA, in order to qualify to be a service-disabled veteran-owned business, you must:

  • Qualify as a small business under federal standards
  • Have at least 51% ownership of the business (if there are multiple owners, the combined share of all service-disabled veterans must be over 51%)
  • Be involved in making day-to-day and long-term decisions for the business
  • Have a disability connected to your military service

If you meet these requirements, you can register with the SBA for access to these special contracts. For help registering, contact the Office of Veterans Business Development and they’ll be able to help out.


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Grant and Loan Types for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses

A common myth among veterans who want to start a business is that there’s lots of easy or free money available. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, says Briskman. You’ll still need to take out a loan that needs to be paid back. 

Veterans also do not qualify for funding or loans automatically: You’ll still need to apply and impress lenders with your big idea. 

Luckily,  great financing options are still available. Being a veteran-owned business makes you stand out from the competition, which is a big plus for lenders. Also, the SBA may choose to waive interest fees on your loan. This is often called a “free loan” or “free grant.”

Here’s how to get financing for your veteran-owned business startup:

  • Talk to your bank: They can help you evaluate your business idea and decide which loans you should apply for. Local banks and credit unions may be especially willing to finance your small business.
  • Contact the SBA: They can guide you through the application process for a free loan. They also provide mentorship and training for veterans who want to start a small business. Plus, this is a pretty common thing for them, they deal with veterans specifically all day, every day.

The Benefits of Starting a Veteran-Owned Small Business

Still unsure if becoming a business owner is for you? Even veterans are subject to the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. Before you go all-in and take the plunge, here are a few benefits worth considering: 

  • Access to better interest rates on business loans
  • Extra support from the VA and the SBA
  • An edge when bidding on government contracts (for service-disabled veterans)
  • A reason for your community to rally around your business

How to Register as a Veteran-Owned Small Business

Service-disabled veterans should get certified by the SBA if they’d like to bid on the specially reserved government contracts.

If you’re not service-disabled, you don’t need to be officially certified. All you need is to provide proof of your service if asked. This qualifies you for veteran-specific business coaching and, potentially, a free loan through the SBA.

Go Get ‘Em, Soldier

Owning your own business, no matter what you specialize in, may be perfect for you. Like we said earlier, many who have served in the military bring qualities and characteristics that are extremely helpful to the small business world. But, there’s also a lot to be cautious about, too.

Hopefully we helped steer you in the right direction and got you started with some of the answers you’re looking for. Just remember, the VA and SBA are there to help you when you’re looking for guidance and answers. Good luck, we’ll be cheering for you.

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TrustedChoice.com Article | Reviewed by Len Briskman

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