Being a veteran and a new business owner comes with unique responsibilities that can be made easier with a grant. Having served your country once, you may wish to continue that service and exercise your skills once on reserve, retired, or done with active duty. Contributing to the economy by owning your own business is an admirable way of addressing that desire. However, businesses are expensive, no matter how small.
That’s why seeking a business grant designed for veteran entrepreneurs is smart, particularly because it doesn’t carry the high interest rate associated with small business loans. Government agencies, such as the Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) and the Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC), have business programs designed for former military personnel.
This guide will walk you through several financing options that exist for veteran business owners. It’ll also introduce you to business-related resources for military veterans that can help you maximize your civilian life as an entrepreneur.
7 Business Grants for Veterans
There are several platforms to begin your search for veteran-related business grants. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers a lender match tool to help veterans find competitive funding for their entrepreneurial ideas. Grants.gov is another resource to search for grants related to your branch of military service, your wounded or discharge status, and even the kind of business you hope to open.
As a veteran business owner, the support offered by the federal government extends beyond your military benefits. As an American veteran, you also have access to the following grants and funding held exclusively for veterans:
- The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (MREIDL)
- SBA Veterans Advantage 7(a) Loan
- Veteran Entrepreneur Portal
- Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program for Disabled Vets
- Veterans Business Fund
- Warrior Rising
The following seven programs provide a strong starting point for any veteran business owner looking for entrepreneurial funding. Continue reading for details on each and instructions on how to apply.
The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (MREIDL)
The MREIDL is a federal program designed to help small businesses make it through ordinary operational costs if an essential employee is called up to active duty. This loan can provide up to $2 million worth of working capital to meet necessary obligations in your absence due to active duty.
Keep in mind that MREIDL funds cannot be utilized to cover for lost income, to refinance, or to stand in for regular commercial debt, but they can provide your business with the money it needs for things like utilities or payroll associated with filling your position while you’re away.
Eligibility for MREIDL funds is established by the SBA in relation to your ability to recover from a duty-related financial loss on your own. This means that if sufficient hardship funds are available to you from a private lender, you’ll not be a candidate for the MREIDL program, as it’s taxpayer funded.
These loans carry a 4% interest rate and can offer terms of up to 30 years, although the SBA determines your loan term based on your established ability to repay. Insurance is necessary as is collateral if your small business borrows more than $50,000.
SBA Veterans Advantage 7(a) Loan
A 7(a) loan is the SBA’s designated method for directing funding at small businesses. The Veterans Advantage loans aim to help veteran-owned small businesses access the capital they need to launch or expand.
To qualify, your company needs to be 51% owned by an individual who meets one of the following requirements:
- Honorably discharged veterans
- Active-duty military service members eligible for the military’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP)
- Active reservists and/or active National Guard members
- Current spouse of any veteran, active-duty service member, reservist, National Guard member, or the widowed spouse of a service member who died while in service or as a result of a service-connected disability
Veteran Entrepreneur Portal
The Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP) serves as your one-stop shop for all things related to the launching of a veteran-run business. Although it doesn’t emphasize any one loan or grant, it does provide one-click access to Doing Business with VA opportunities, veteran-centric outreach programs, and even forms you may require at various points in your business journey.
If you are just starting and feel overwhelmed with the amount of information available to prospective veteran business owners, this is the place to get organized.
Veteran Readiness and Employment Program for Disabled Vets
Formerly known as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, the Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program provides services for disabled veterans and service members seeking to start their own businesses. The array of services offered through this program extends to career coaching, resume building, “hire a vet” extensions, and independent living assistance for severely disabled veterans who might not be able to work in the traditional workplace.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) makes applying for VR&E assistance easy via your established eBenefits account. Veterans who may have a service-connected disability who haven’t received a rating from the VA don’t need to wait to apply. Listed on the dashboard under “Additional Benefits,” you can apply on the VA platform and will be asked to attend an in-person orientation at your regional VA office if deemed eligible.
Vets First Verification Program
You may or may not be aware that Public Law 109-461, also known as the Veterans Benefits, Healthcare, and Information Technology Act of 2006, allows the VA unique oversight into the access that veteran-owned businesses can get to federal contracts set aside for service members. The Vets First Verification Program gives all recognized veteran-run small businesses first crack at any VA set-asides and helps ensure that veteran-run businesses remain competitive when it comes to big federal contracts.
While you have to have your small business fledged and underway to partake of this benefit, it is well worth applying for, as it grants another level of access to business opportunities. Once verified, your business is also legal to feature the exclusive Veteran Owned Small Business logo that comes with formal verification. To be deemed eligible, you need to complete the verification process.
Launched on Veterans Day 2016, the StreetShares Foundation is a nationwide initiative dedicated to supporting veteran entrepreneurs through every challenge and success associated with small business ownership. StreetShares provides everything from lines of credit and mentors to financing e-books and grant programs. Boasting more than 85,000 members, this is an inexhaustible resource for educating and connecting yourself during the ideation of your small business.
Eligibility for any of StreetShares’ yearly reward opportunities rests on proving a positive impact on the military community through your business. Check the application and other eligibility requirements here.
Having coined the phrase “vetrepreneurs” to describe the heroic people they’re interested in serving, Warrior Rising is an organization aiming to empower veteran business owners to launch sustainable small businesses. With a special emphasis on taking each vetrepreneur’s case on an individual level, this organization can provide you with business-building insights (such as where to locate or whom to partner with) and access to funding opportunities.
Warrior Rising is uniquely geared toward helping veterans who wish to own a business overcome whatever obstacles stand in their way of doing so. This organization seeks to grant understanding of complicated business-related terminologies and concepts to veterans by providing instruction through the lens of tactics that veterans learn during military service.
If you are a veteran entrepreneur who has felt stuck or alone in the process of bringing your business dreams to fruition, fill out the Warrior Rising application and gain access to a community of fellow business-minded service members who can help.
Resources for Veteran Business Owners
Other resources exist to support veterans in their efforts to continue making a positive impact on their communities through business. Some are government-affiliated, and others are nonprofits run by veterans. Association with any program listed below comes with the bonus of large networks of fellow veteran business owners and professionals in specified fields related to business success:
- VA Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU)
- Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-Wise)
- Service-Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (SDVETP)
- Veteran Federal Procurement Entrepreneurship Training Program (VFPETP)
- Boots to Business
VA Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU)
Registering with the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) can connect you with government contracts that you might not know about otherwise. This VA-run operation seeks to give a leg up to economically disadvantaged individuals by providing them access to federal projects, forecasts of contracting opportunities, marketing events, training resources, and more.
Eligibility to be added to the OSDBU Directory is secured through the Vets First Verification Program. Any veteran experiencing issues with the verification process can seek support via one of the verification assistance counselors.
Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-Wise)
If you are a female veteran with a startup dream, Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) has the training program for you. Focusing exclusively on women veterans and female military spouses/partners, this SBA-affiliated platform is designed to offer business management savvy to prospective small business owners.
A $75 registration fee gets you access to established women veteran business owners, a team of instructors dedicated to helping you bypass the unique hurdles you may face in the ideation of your company, 20 modules of training on everything from financing to business law, and 12-months of ongoing support as you put it all into action. Email IVMFEducation@syr.edu or call 315-443-6898 to learn more.
Service-Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (SDVETP)
To support the enhanced entrepreneurship of veterans laid out in Public Law 109-461, the SBA implemented the Service-Disabled Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (SDVETP). This grant opportunity targets service-disabled veteran entrepreneurs and the organizations actively supporting their success for grant awards from $50,000 to $150,000 per awardee for six grantees per year.
Whether you’re still only in the aspirational phase of realizing your veteran-owned small business or have it up and running, this is an excellent opportunity to access growth capital through support from SDVETP-affiliated platforms. The organizational grantees currently supported by active SDVETP funds are:
- IVMF Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV): Aimed at post-9/11 veterans who have an honorable discharge, this program strives to provide entrepreneurship training alongside fellow veterans and lifelong mentorship.
- Veterans Entrepreneurship Program (VEP): Offered through the Riata Center for Entrepreneurship, Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University, and now available at several more universities nationwide, this program offers experiential training in entrepreneurship to veterans with a service-related disability.
- Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans – St. Joseph’s University: Post-9/11 veterans can get the tools, training, and practice they need for successful small business management through this veteran-run program at no charge.
- Dog Tag Inc.: If gaining real-world skills in the Georgetown University atmosphere sounds like your path, this program is a portal to understanding what it takes to transition from military life to small business profitability.
Veteran Federal Procurement Entrepreneurship Training Program (VFPETP)
You may have a lead on selling your veteran-made goods or services to the government you served so well in the military. Maybe you would like to know how to advance connections for your veteran-owned business when it comes to federal procurement. The Veteran Federal Procurement Entrepreneurship Training Program (VFPETP) is a 12-month grant program that can help your small business get there.
- Veteran Institute for Procurement (VIP): If you are an owner, principal, or C-level executive of a veteran-owned business, you can partake of four “accelerator-in-residence” training programs designed to help you learn the ropes of federal procurement.
Boots to Business
Are you still wondering if your business idea is feasible? Boots to Business specializes in helping prospective veteran business owners evaluate, expand, and implement their business concepts. Through their one- or two-day in-person courses, Boots to Business exposes veterans to a critical exploration of their self-employment opportunities, technical needs, and access to capital.
Providing foundational knowledge directed at refining business plans, this is a strong place to start if you are still unsure about the logistics of your idea. You can create an account here to get started.
Find more small business resources
There is funding for every kind of veteran small business. The most challenging part is figuring out which program best serves your entrepreneurial dreams. You can’t go wrong starting with the Office of Veterans Business Development and exploring the lending tools available through the SBA.
You can also obtain professional help in creating your business by contacting the experts at ZenBusiness. Dedicated not just to getting your veteran-owned small business off the ground, ZenBusiness can provide you the tools you need to manage everything from compliance needs to annual reports. Check out ZenBusiness today and let your veteran-run small business serve your community sooner.