These programs help America’s vets get a new start as entrepreneurs.
After months or years abroad in Iraq, America’s soldiers are returning home. For those re-entering civilian life, there’s a choice to be made. And if they’re like many before them, they’ll choose to follow their entrepreneurial dreams.
President Barack Obama speaks to troops just home from Iraq at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on Dec. 14, 2011. Photo: UPI
Luckily, there are private and government-sponsored programs to guide and help fund these very individuals. There are 22,894,578 living U.S. veterans, and another 1,430,985 are currently on active duty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Current and former military personnel make up almost 8% of the general population, and they carry significant economic power.
Veterans own a whopping 2,447,608 of businesses in the U.S., employ a total of 5,792,869 people, and collectively earn more than $200 billion annually, according to the 2007 Census.
These companies, like their civilian counterparts, are mostly small businesses, with 51.7% employing 1 to 4 people, 17.1% employing 5 to 9 people, and 11.3% going it alone, according to a 2002 survey by the Small Business Administration. Their interests are varied, with 18.7% of their businesses classified as professional, scientific or technical; 13.9% in construction trades, and 9.5% in retail.
Meanwhile, the number of Latinos who are serving or have served in the U.S. military is growing rapidly. Of 1,068,900 Americans serving on the front lines with the Ready Reserve in 2010, 99,600, or about 9.32% of the total, were Latino, according to the 2010 Census.
Latinos account for 11.2% of Americans on active military duty as of 2006, according to the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense. Of 22,894,578 U.S. veterans, 1,121,834, or 4.9%, are Latino, according to the 2009 Census.
Like their non-Latino counterparts, many of these veterans are determined to launch their own business endeavors. Latino veterans own about 113,161 firms, or 4.62% of the total number of veteran owned businesses, according to the 2007 Census. However, those businesses employ only 140,417 people, about 2.99% of those employed by veterans. And, collectively they earn $4,773,104,000 annually, only about 2.27% of the total annual payroll of veteran owned businesses, according to the same survey.
So, putting it bluntly, Latino veterans own a proportionate number of businesses, given their representation among U.S. veterans, but they employ fewer and earn less than non-Latino business owners overall. As the latest generation of Latino-Americans on active duty return home, they must find a way to fix this incongruity.
Fortunately, a number of organizations and programs are available to promote veteran entrepreneurship.
- The Small Business Association’s Mentor-Protégé Program connects veteran entrepreneurs with other business owners for training and advice.
- Whitman College conducts an Entrepreneurial Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities and Operation Endure and Grow, an online business-training course for current and former National Guard members.
- The Veteran Affairs Office offers the Federal Contractor Certification Program through the Defense Acquisition University, which helps veteran entrepreneurs understand and obtain federal contracts.
- Another such program is the VA Franchise Fund, put on by Veteran Affairs Enterprise Centers, which advises and assists former soldiers on a variety of issues, such as debt, accounting, technology, training and record-keeping.
- There also are programs aimed at boosting new and existing veteran businesses financially, like the Small Business Administration’s Patriot Express Program, which gives small business loans to members of the military community.
So, as the last U.S. servicemen and women stationed in Iraq return home this month, they have a number of places to look for advice and help on their road towards entrepreneurship.