No one said starting a business would be easy. But if you served our country, chances are you may qualify for certain financial assistance that can lessen the burden.
According to the 2007 Survey of Business Owners data released in 2011, there were 2.45 million businesses with majority ownership by veterans. What’s more, they represented 9% of all U.S. firms. With veterans playing such a key role in our economy, it’s worth it to see what’s out there before bootstrapping (i.e., using your own money).
Of course, if you’re going to apply for financing, be sure check your credit. Many business loans, most notably business credit cards, require a personal guarantee, meaning a lender is going to look at your credit file before giving their approval. You can see where two of your credit scores stand by viewing your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com. If you find your credit needs improving, try paying down high credit card balances, disputing credit reports errors and addressing delinquent accounts. (We’ve got a few more ways you can quickly boost your credit scores here.)
With that in mind, here are four financing resources veteran entrepreneurs can look into tapping.
1. Small Business Association
Perhaps the most established of the resources listed here, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several loan options for veteran-owned businesses.
“Depending on a borrower’s needs, these loans can be used for a variety of purposes,” and are guaranteed by the SBA, said Craig Heilman, deputy associate administrator, Office of Veterans Business Development, U.S. Small Business Administration. “Any small business can apply, and we encourage them to work with their district office or partners to get lender-ready.”
The SBA Veteran’s Entrepreneurship Act of 2015 “reduces the upfront borrower fee to zero dollars for eligible veterans and military spouses for SBA Express loans up to $350,000,” the administration’s site says. Leveraging Information and Networks to Access Capital (LINC) helps small business owners, including veterans, get in touch with advisers who specialize in microlending, smaller loans and real estate financing. To connect with an SBA-approved lender, you can visit the SBA’s website.
2. The Veterans Opportunity Fund
Launched in Maryland in October 2013 by TEDCO Capital Partners, which manages a family of venture capital funds, the Veterans Opportunity Fund (VOF) was designed to focus on service members specifically.
“It is our belief that veteran-owned business represent an attractive investment opportunity that, when proper due diligence is applied, can produce superior return on invested capital,” the site says. Not only are these veterans highly skilled — and highly disciplined — they’re committed to giving back to their country. Up to $3 million is up for grabs, so make sure your startup meets their criteria: Ideally you’re based on the East Coast, affiliated with technology and in the early revenue or testing stage.
3. The Veterans Business Resource Center
Though the St. Louis Veterans Business Center (VBRC) does not offer grants or financial aid per se, it does provide training on several aspects of entrepreneurship, from marketing to sales to business planning, and much more.
“There are adjusted fees for some classes, and clients who need on-site consulting are charged at a sliding scale,” the site says, but for the most part, there is little to no charge. “The VBRC emphasizes a distinctive veteran-to-veteran approach through extensive utilization of the many established and successful veterans in the St. Louis metropolitan area,” the site says. The organization focuses its efforts in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. “This veteran-to-veteran approach permeates all aspects of VBRC’s services from training and consulting to advocacy, networking and mentoring,” the site says.
4. Veteran Entrepreneur Portal
Though the Veterans Administration doesn’t offer financing programs for entrepreneurs, said Randy Noller, who works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, “our office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) does provide some help to veterans to get contracts with government agencies, etc.”
The Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP), on the VA’s main site, makes it easier to locate Federal services online. Complete a questionnaire to see which government resources are best, or gather information directly on loans like the Fixed Assets CDC/504, which offer small businesses long-term, fixed-rate financing for major assets like land and buildings. You can also learn about CAPLines loans, which are ideal for meeting short-term working-capital needs.
Remember, whatever financing route you pursue, it’s important to read loan contracts carefully so you know exactly what you’re signing up for. You’ll also want to vet prospective lenders or offers thoroughly since, unfortunately, there are a lot of scammers out there that target vets. We’ve got more tips for veterans looking for a loan here.