For a relatively small population, veteran entrepreneurs have a significant footprint on the landscape of small business in the U.S. And like many business owners, they sometimes need business loans or other forms of funding 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, there are several federal agencies, nonprofits, and other organizations that assist military entrepreneurs to access small business grants for veterans.
That said, it’s difficult to track down small business grants for veterans and apply for them directly. So, your more accessible course of action is to avail yourself of a training and outreach program that can connect you with financing opportunities, while also providing you the tools you need to successfully transition from military duty to business ownership. Barring that, you might consider veteran business loans or other entrepreneurial opportunities that provide veterans with financial incentives.
In this article, we’ll walk you through seven of the most reputable resources to help veterans and military families get their businesses off the ground.
7 Small Business Grant and Financing Resources for Veterans
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.
1. Veterans Business Outreach Centers
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.
2. Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization
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.
3. Boots to Business
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.
4. Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program
Every year, the federal government aims to set aside 3% of their contracting budget for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. To qualify for this program, your business has to meet the following standards:
- Adhere to the SBA’s definition of a small business
- Be at least 51% owned and controlled by one or more service-disabled veterans
- Have one or more service-disabled veterans manage day-to-day operations and also make long-term decisions
- Eligible veterans must have a service-connected disability
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.
5. Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan
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.
6. VetFran Franchising Opportunities
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 their Opportunities Portal. This portal connects you to the 600+ franchises in the VetFran network that offer special discounts for veterans and military spouses.
7. The StreetShares Foundation and Loans
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.
Other Resources for Veterans
The seven 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 Warrior Rising. 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, reservist and national guard members, and military families.