By Eric Goldschein
Few things go together better than veterans and entrepreneurship. Many of the traits that veterans develop during their service — drive, commitment, accountability, organization — help them become effective business leaders when they come home.
This isn’t news to veterans: According to the SBA, one in four post-9/11 veterans wants to start their own business. They understand how effective they can be as business owners. The hard part is obtaining the funding to start, and grow, their ventures.
Anyone who has explored the concept of starting a business knows how crucial startup and working capital funding is to a business’s prospects of success. Without enough funding, businesses can’t cover cash flow gaps, make smart investments or scale efficiently to meet rising demand.
While bootstrapping your business is a noble goal, there comes a point where your personal savings won’t be enough to keep your business afloat until it is profitable.
If you’re a veteran seeking additional funding, the following options are your best bets.
Loans for Veteran Entrepreneurs
Business loans are a common way for business owners to obtain financing. There are a variety of loan products available on the market today, from traditional term loans to lines of credit to credit cards.
Here are a few business loan options that are particularly good choices for veterans to explore:
1. SBA loans
The SBA has a number of loan programs, in which the federal agency partially guarantees bank loans to small businesses. The SBA 7(a) loan and the SBA CDC/504 loan are both popular loan programs that offer long term loans, at low-interest rates, to highly qualified business owners.
SBA loans are not exclusively for veteran business owners, but the SBA Microloan program disperses loans through community lenders, many of which seek to fund disadvantaged entrepreneurs, including veterans. If you are a new veteran business owner who needs up to $50,000 in startup funds, there may be no better loan on the market than an SBA Microloan.
Additionally, the SBA’s Military Economic Injury Loan program is available to current and veteran military reservists whose small businesses were negatively affected when they were called into active duty. If you fit this description, you can use this low-interest loan to get things back up and running upon your return.
StreetShares is a lender that is owned and operated by veterans, with a mission of funding business loans for fellow veterans. They do this by connecting veteran business owners with investors who can fund loans for up to $100,000.
The application process is fairly quick, and turnaround on a loan can take as little as one business day.
3. Online lenders
It can be difficult for small businesses to qualify for a bank loan without the help of the SBA. In recent years, a new type of lender has emerged: Online lenders, which provide funding more quickly and readily (i.e. with less stringent application processes) than banks and credit unions.
If you have an immediate funding need, or your personal or business credit is lacking, a loan through an online lender may be the solution. The repayment terms will be less generous — higher interest rates, less time to repay the loan — but it can be a good first loan option for veteran entrepreneurs.
4. Franchise-specific Funding
Companies such as UPS, 7-Eleven and Little Caesar’s provide special benefits and discounts to veterans seeking to open a franchise under their banners. This can include points off the initial franchising fee, discounts on equipment orders, free marketing supplies and more.
Equity Financing for Veteran Entrepreneurs
Another avenue for securing financing is to offer equity in your business in exchange for funding. If you have major funding needs (typically more than $1 million), are comfortable giving up part ownership of your business and seek advice and mentorship along with financing, equity financing may be the way to go.
You can connect with equity investors and venture capitalists on your own, or seek equity financing through several veteran-focused organizations:
• Hivers and Strivers: Entrepreneurs that graduated from a military academy can get early-stage investments from this angel investment group.
• Veteran Ventures Capital: A combination investment fund and consulting firm that assists businesses with veteran leadership.
• Task Force X Capital: A B2B technology investor focused on veteran entrepreneurs.
• 1836: This venture makes direct investments in veteran-owned businesses that operate in the lower middle market, focusing on companies in Texas and the Gulf Coast.
Grants for Veteran Entrepreneurs
Understandably, many entrepreneurs are interested in the concept of free money to invest in their business. That’s why business grants are so sought-after.
There are a few business grant programs specifically for veteran business owners. They include:
1. VetFran Business Grant Fund
Veterans who open franchises through the IFA VetFran program will also qualify for a $10,000 grant, which you can use in conjunction with other funding.
2. USDA Veteran and Minority Farmer Grant
Small business grants through the Department of Agriculture’s 2501 Program are available to veterans opening agricultural operations.
3. StreetShares Commanders Call Veteran Business Award
Along with their loans, StreetShares offers a $5,000 grant to veterans or military spouses who own their own businesses.
There are also a number of non-veteran-specific small business grants that you can explore, offering various amounts of funding that veterans may qualify for, including:
• Rural Business Enterprise Grant
• FedEx Small Business Grant
• Eileen Fisher Grant for Women
• Chase Mission Main Street Grant
• Visa Everywhere Initiative
• LendingTree’s Small Business Grant Contest
• Wells Fargo Community Investment Program
It’s also worth mentioning that crowdfunding has grown into a legitimate option for many business owners seeking additional capital. You can use reward- or donation-based crowdfunding, as well as equity and debt crowdfunding.
Develop a campaign and goal for mainstream sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe, or use veteran-focused platforms such as MilitaryStarter, or Help Fund A Veteran. The stakes are relatively low — if you fail to make your goal, just try again or move on to other options.
Not every veteran with dreams of opening their own business does so — and a lack of funding is often the reason why. Don’t let financing issues stop you from pursuing your dream business and putting your skills to work for your community and society-at-large. Look into one of the above options and see what works for you.