For a relatively small population, veteran entrepreneurs have a significant footprint on the small business landscape. And like many business owners, they sometimes need business loans or other funding forms to help launch or grow their endeavor.
As of 2019, 2.5 million of the country’s small businesses were owned by veterans, which accounts for 9.15% of all American businesses. As a gesture of faith, gratitude, and support for these business owners, several federal agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations assist military entrepreneurs in accessing small business grants for veterans.
In this article, we’ll walk you through 12 of the most reputable grants and resources to help veterans and military families get their businesses off the ground.
As we mentioned, it can be difficult to find and apply for small business grants for veterans on your own. Ahead, we’ll show you seven government-managed business centers, agencies, courses, and independent organizations and platforms that can help facilitate that process, along with providing information about other business financing opportunities for vets.
First up, Hivers and Strivers is an angel investment group that provides startup funding to companies founded by graduates of the U.S. Military Academies. Hivers and Strivers generally invests between $250,000 and $1 million in a single funding round.
To apply for funding from Hivers and Strivers, you must fill out an online application located on their website.
Every year, the federal government aims to set aside 3% of its contracting budget for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. To qualify for this program, your business has to meet the following standards:
If your business meets these requirements, you can represent your business as a service-disabled veteran-owned business on SAM.gov, the government’s online system through which businesses can apply for federal contracts.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the StreetShares Foundation was launched by a group of military entrepreneurs and their supporters with the mission “to inspire, educate and support the military entrepreneurial community.”
One crucial way they advocate for military-owned businesses is through their grant program, which awards up to $15,000 to veteran entrepreneurs; this year, they sponsored a Female Founders Veteran Small Business Award Grant Program. Applications are evaluated based on factors like the business’s social impact on the military community, the business owner’s personal history, and how the applicant plans to use grant funds. The deadline for this year’s StreetShares grant program has passed, but it’s well worth considering applying in 2021.
Another option is to apply for a loan through StreetShares, the veteran-owned online lending platform that oversees the StreetShares Foundation. The platform itself isn’t intended solely for veteran-owned businesses, but among their offerings, they provide three types of loans designed for vets: term loans up to $250,000; lines of credit up to $250,000; and contract financing.
Warrior Rising is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting aspiring veteran business owners by providing workshops, training, and grants to cover startup business expenses.
To become a member of Warrior Rising, you will need to partake in a phone interview and speak to staff members about your background. You will then need to complete a virtual course. Once completed, Warrior Rising will then offer mentorship and assistance with grant funding opportunities.
Through the Veteran Readiness and Employment program, service-disabled veterans unable to work in a traditional employment environment are eligible to receive training and grant funding to start their businesses or help with job training.
Interested veterans will need to fill out an application. Once their applications are submitted, they will be reviewed to determine if they meet the program’s eligibility requirements. If they meet the requirements, they will be able to participate in an orientation session and learn more about the program.
While not exclusive to veteran small businesses, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program provides grant funding to small businesses that create technological innovations. SBIR grants are categorized into two types: Phase I and Phase II. Phase I grants are awarded to businesses that need funding to figure out their business’s commercial viability. These grants go up to $150,000 and are non-dilutive.
If you received a Phase I grant and successfully proved that your proposal is workable, you’ll be eligible to receive a Phase II grant. Phase II grants are based on your Phase I work performance, and you can potentially receive up to $1 million over two years.
To apply for an SBIR grant, your business must be for-profit, majority-owned by U.S. citizens or permanent residents aliens of the U.S., and have less than 500 employees. If you meet those qualifications, you’ll be able to submit a proposal containing relevant documents about your business to the SBIR program’s RFP portal.
To stay up to date on the latest veteran grant opportunities, check out GrantWatch, a free website that aggregates all federal, regional, and local grants for small businesses, veterans, and nonprofits. GrantWatch updates every day with the latest grants, making it an invaluable resource for veteran and non-veteran business owners alike.
The Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU), managed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is dedicated mainly to helping vets seek federal contracting opportunities. That said, the OSDBU website is a one-stop resource shop for veteran entrepreneurs seeking help with virtually every aspect of starting, running, and financing their businesses.
An especially important tool here is the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal, which aggregates resources to help entrepreneurs find and apply for government contracts, locate franchising opportunities, and access training and employment programs for vets, among many other resources.
Offered by the SBA as part of the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program, Boots to Business is one of the best free courses on entrepreneurship available for veterans and their spouses.
This course is organized in two parts: Introduction to Entrepreneurship and B2B Revenue Readiness. In the former, participants acquire the essential skills, knowledge, and resources they need to launch a successful business. Crucially, this course includes learning about how to access startup capital and contracting opportunities. Introduction to Entrepreneurship is typically offered in person; but due to COVID-19, the SBA is transitioning to virtual courses.
Once they’ve completed this first course, participants can choose to continue their studies with B2B Revenue Readiness, a six-week online course offered through a partnership with Mississippi State University. This program ”prepares participants to take their business idea from concept to an executable business model in a relatively short time frame.” Like Introduction to Entrepreneurship, this course is free and available to all veterans, plus military spouses.
The SBA’s Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan provides loans to small businesses that are unable to meet their operating expenses because the owner or a key employee has been called up to active duty. Loan funds provide the business with the working capital it needs to maintain its operations until the owner or employee returns from military service. In this program, funds are actually provided through the SBA itself, rather than through an intermediary lender, as is the case with other SBA loans.
The MREIDL loan program can provide loans of up to $2 million, with repayment terms up to 30 years and a 4% interest rate. Collateral is required for MREIDL loans exceeding $50,000. Businesses are eligible to apply for this loan up to one year after the date the employee received notice of expected call-up.
While this is not a small business grant for veterans, it is still worth exploring. There are so many franchise opportunities for veterans out there that provide generous financial incentives for veterans and their spouses entering a franchise system. Most often, that incentive involves the franchisor discounting the veteran franchisee’s initial franchise fee, or even waiving it entirely.
If you’re interested in buying a franchise (at a discount), head to the VetFran website and search the Opportunities Portal. This portal connects you to the 600+ franchises in the VetFran network that offer special discounts for veterans and military spouses.
Overseen by the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development, Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC) provide veterans and veteran spouses the training and tools they need to launch their businesses—think business plan workshops, mentorship programs, and management training. Since they’re under the SBA’s jurisdiction, VBOCs can also help you identify potential SBA loan opportunities, provide loan referrals, and help you package loan applications.
There are 22 VBOC centers located across the country, but if you can’t find a location near you, you can always contact an office and find out whether they can provide remote assistance.
Like applying to any grant program, there are several things you need to take into consideration before you start the grant application process. Here are a few points to keep in mind as you embark on your search for the best veteran small business grant.
Not all veteran small business grants have the same eligibility requirements, so you must spend time researching the eligibility requirements before applying for a grant. Some veteran grant programs are only open to veterans with honorable discharges, others are open to veteran family members, and some cater toward service-disabled or new entrepreneurs, so keep that in mind as you narrow down your list for potential grants.
As a veteran, you’re probably no stranger to accomplishing tasks precisely on schedule. The grant application process can take up a lot of time, so we advise you to plan ahead. Generally, the more competitive a grant program, the more time is needed to complete the application. Schedule time on your calendar a few weeks or months before the grant deadline so you can complete your application well within the timeframe.
The 12 grant resources listed above are some of the best and most reputable ways for veterans to access the training, support, and financial assistance they need to start their businesses—but they’re certainly not the only resources out there. A few other programs to look into for more support include the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, V-WISE, and Bunker Labs. You always have the option of visiting or contacting your local SBA chapter or SCORE office, as well—they may be able to match you with a business mentor with similar experience transitioning into civilian life.
And if you’re looking for comprehensive guides to entrepreneurship, we’ve got you covered with our veteran’s guide to starting a business, plus our guide on veteran business loans. There, you’ll find even more financing options for veteran-owned businesses, including the SBA loan programs that can work best for veterans, active-duty military service members, reservists and national guard members, and military families.
Sally Lauckner is the editor-in-chief of the Fundera Ledger and the editorial director at Fundera.
Sally has over a decade of experience in print and online journalism. Previously she was the senior editor at SmartAsset—a Y Combinator-backed fintech startup that provides personal finance advice. There she edited articles and data reports on topics including taxes, mortgages, banking, credit cards, investing, insurance, and retirement planning. She has also held various editorial roles at AOL.com, Huffington Post, and Glamour magazine. Her work has also appeared in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan magazines.