At the end of a military career, it's tempting to simply find a new gig, work 9-to-5 and count down to an annual vacation. But military service can help veterans prepare for an entirely different career path: entrepreneurship.
Owning your own small business can be a risky undertaking, but the government has programs in place to help veterans get a leg up, and many current and prior service members have blazed a trail for those who are interested in the freedom that self-determination can provide.
In addition to the Transition Assistance Program's entrepreneurship help, currently offered by the Small Business Administration through multi-day training, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs as well as multiple private organizations have other programs to help vets get into business.
For example, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University runs the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) program, which provides entrepreneurship training for post-9/11 vets with service-connected disabilities and their family member caregivers.
David Burnett, an Army veteran, author and the entrepreneur behind Tac Clamp, completed the EBV soon after completing his first prototype. The former MH-47G Chinook crew chief with the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment is certain that his clamp will make it easier for service members to rapidly secure their gear when entering a ground vehicle or helicopter and then release it when they're exiting, even in blackout conditions.
"I put about $40,000 of my own money into the development of the product. ... I went to a program in Philadelphia called EBV," he said.
In the program, he was able to connect with other entrepreneurs, see paths to bring his prototype to market and even connect with an investor.
A week later, Burnett pitched it to the investor and his wife in their living room and secured a $50,000 investment.
His product is now going through the Air Force's Small Business Innovation Research Program, through which the service accepts product submissions from small businesses and then grants money for development as milestones are reached. The money available ranges from $50,000 for finding an Air Force unit that says it will buy the product to millions of dollars for new products being delivered to units.
Air Force veteran Carey Kight runs a very different business producing video content both as a freelancer and as the co-founder and executive producer of Greater Fool Productions. His business often involves working on short contracts and with hired crews, so he has to juggle client and contractor requirements. He says he's found that his military experience gave him the skills to do it.
"From a strategic standpoint, you want to have as many people, as many arrows in your quiver, as you can," he said. "You want to make sure that you're getting the client the best product they can get. If they need someone who can shoot a certain way, you want to make sure you're putting your best foot forward. The other thing is you want to make sure that you have more options to choose from because these are contractors that are also working for other productions."
Scheduling, paying and feeding the right contractors for the right jobs keeps clients coming back to hire him as a freelancer or to hire his production company, he said.
Regardless of the field, entrepreneurs take on significant risk, tying their economic prospects entirely to their ability to generate business for themselves. But they also get the freedom to do their work as they see best.
For Burnett, that's all about making a piece of equipment that can deploy forward with special operations helicopter crews like he used to do. For Kight, that's meeting up with other artists and making products that they and their clients can proudly stand next to.
Resources for Veteran Entrepreneurs
If there's something you want to do that you can't as a member of someone else's company, consider starting your own business, but be sure to tap into the programs available to veteran-owned businesses.
The Office of Small Business Programs in the DoD has a page of great tools for veterans creating their own businesses, including a way to go through the military entrepreneur transition program even if you've already separated from service. More great tools are available through the VA and the Small Business Administration.
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