What Veterans Are Missing About Entrepreneurship

Matt Sapaula mentors military veterans to become their own boss, creating veteran entrepreneurs

“I could have…I would have…I should have…”

Albert said these words more than once after his service in the Korean War. He came out of the military to a wife and small daughter and took a job working the yard of a small local lumber business.

He continued to work in businesses that other people owned for the remainder of his life. He lamented that he never tried to start his own business or buy an existing one where he could be the boss. It was an unfulfilled dream he kept throughout his life.

“I could have, but…” He had the education, business experience, work ethic and intelligence to run a successful business. But he didn’t do it.

“I would have, but…” He had more than one opportunity to start his own business or take over an existing one, but he always declined.

“I should have, but…” He came to regret the missed opportunities. Most of all, he regretted never knowing if he could have succeeded at it.

Why Not?

In Albert’s case, what held him back was love for his family. He put his wife and children (there were eventually six of us) ahead of himself. He thought it would be too much of a risk to try to start a business when he had small children at home.

The baby in the family was three months past her high school graduation when Albert died in 1991. By the time his children were grown, it was too late for him to fulfill his dream. He was afraid to give up a weekly paycheck and guaranteed benefits, even if taking the risk could mean bigger paychecks and better benefits down the line.

Veteran Entrepreneurs Since WWII

Fast forward to the present, and the U.S. is welcoming veterans back from war once again. Veterans, their needs and the debt the country owes them is a hot-button issue.

One aspect of this focus on veterans is their impact on the American economy. The U.S. government collects data on returning veterans to study their economic influence, and the results are startling. In its 2016 white paper Self-employment in the United States, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported rates of veteran self-employment from the different military eras as follows: WWII (40 percent), the Korean War (15.3 percent) and the Vietnam era (8.7 percent). By contrast, Gulf War II veterans recorded only 4.5 percent who took the entrepreneurial route.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) says that breaks down to one veteran-owned business for every 10 veterans.

These numbers stand in contrast to a survey done by Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. Done in 2013, this study found 58 percent of the veterans and military family respondents showed interest in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprise.

Most will readily agree that military training develops the skills a successful entrepreneur needs. Veterans tend to be comfortable with doing things independently and take their own self-efficiency seriously. They exhibit a high level of ambition and a desire for achievement. Veterans also demonstrate the important ability to make effective decisions.

So why aren’t more veterans transitioning into their own businesses? Where is the entrepreneurial spirit in today’s veterans?

Why Aren’t Veterans Starting Businesses?

There seems to be a trend toward a “get a job and settle” mentality among many vets, according to Joseph Kopser, co-founder of RideScout and an Army veteran. He points to a lack of in-service entrepreneurial mentors for current military members.

“There seems to be a trend toward a “get a job and settle” mentality among many vets” – Joseph Kosper, co-founder of RideScout

When vets aren’t starting their own businesses, it creates a debilitating cycle. New businesses create new jobs; veteran-owned businesses create jobs with environments that fit those returning from warfare. Fewer veteran-founded companies means fewer bosses connect with and understand the difficulties of reintegrating after going to war.

Another obstacle is conquering the labyrinth that leads to funding and needed training. There are myriad sources of training and potential funding; just starting can become overwhelming.

In spite of these obstacles, veterans are still more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans.

Where to Start?

The first step, of course, is deciding what type of business to start. The SBA lists the top industries in the U.S. and the percentage of those firms owned by veterans. Finance and insurance industries came in on top, with 13.2 percent of firms in this category started by veterans.

The next step involves getting your plan in order and getting your legal ducks in a row. Now comes the funding part; take it slow to weave through the funding process. Keep an eye on the prize and it’ll be fine.

To grow a business into a successful one, there must be customers. This is the beauty of the insurance industry, and one reason it comes in so high on the SBA list. An insurance business can begin on the side while transitioning out of the military. It makes for a great part-time home-based business.

“I Would Have, But…”

Albert fell into the trap of the regular paycheck. He couldn’t envision life without it and wasn’t willing to risk his family’s well-being on a chance to break the weekly paycheck grind. His family respected that choice and loved him dearly for it. Albert provided for his family until his dying day.

Oh, but if he had taken that chance…

The opportunities are there if any veteran wants to take advantage of them. There are far more resources open to vets now than there were after WWII or the Korean War. Yet those servicemen and women were an entrepreneurial generation, and thus a job-creating one.

Life goes by swiftly. Make certain to be the boss of it.

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