Grants for Veterans Starting a Business
Many veterans leave military service with the experience and know-how to channel their leadership skills into a new business venture. Fortunately, there are many resources available to veteran entrepreneurs, including grants for getting that dream business off the ground. Understanding the options available to veteran business owners is half the battle, which is why you should research current loan and grant programs designed to serve former military members and their families.
Veterans Business Outreach Center
According to data from the 2012 U.S. Census Bureau, veteran-owned businesses employ more than 5.5 million people. Veteran business owners have a track record of success, but every start-up needs a little help to get going. A good place to start researching your options is the Veterans Business Outreach Center Program (VBOC), which is part of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
The VBOC program serves as a one-stop shop for veterans, military spouses and transitioning service members looking to start or grow their business. There are 15 Veterans Business Outreach Centers located across the United States to provide business development assistance, including counseling, mentoring, training and resource referrals.
VBOC can help assess your business concept, conduct a comprehensive feasibility analysis and train you in areas related to franchising, international trade, accounting, internet marketing and more. VBOC also offers free business workshops and in-person appointments to discuss your business venture. You may also qualify for certain government financing programs through the SBA, such as the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan to help cover operating expenses during active duty.
It’s important to note that the SBA does not provide these loans directly, but rather guarantees them while providing financial, technical and management assistance to borrowers.
Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization
The Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) enables veterans to gain access to a broader scope of economic opportunities for establishing and growing their businesses. OSDBU’s mission is to reduce risk, increase awareness, promote better performance and improve resource procurement that helps small business owners reach their goals.
To utilize OSDBU as a resource, you must first register as a veteran-owned business and go through the verification process. Doing so will list you on the VetBiz directory, which allows you to qualify for specific government contracts and financing programs. You can also use the OSDBU’s entrepreneurial portal for guidance on completing the verification process.
Boots to Business
The Boots to Business program offered by the SBA doesn’t provide grant money, but it does serve as an invaluable resource for veterans seeking to start their own businesses. This free, two-step training program includes an introduction to entrepreneurship and eight weeks of online courses that cover tips and techniques for getting your business off the ground.
One of the best things about Boots to Business is that the curriculum includes how to write a business plan. Since most grant applications for veterans require comprehensive business plans, signing up for Boots to Business should be one of your first steps before securing financing. All those on active-duty who are transitioning out of the military are eligible to take advantage of this free program.
Small Business Innovation Research Grant
When it’s time to apply for grants, see if you qualify for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Grant. The SBIR is offered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science as part of a federal program designed for small businesses engaged in research.
Veteran-owned businesses with a focus on scientific research can qualify for the SBIR grant by meeting specific objectives. You must also prove that your project has commercialization potential. Thanks to the SBIR, veteran-owned businesses are given almost $90 million in allocated funds each year, with $1 million being the maximum amount awarded to an individual.
Small Business Technology Transfer Program
Another option for high-tech businesses is the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Grant. The government awards the STTR Grant to qualifying veteran-owned businesses that carry out research for the federal government. While the grant is managed by the SBA, various government agencies and departments designate research topics and accept business proposals. These agencies include Defense, Health, Energy, NASA, Human Services and the National Science Foundation.
To be eligible for the STTR Grant, a business must be American- and veteran-owned with fewer than 500 employees. Each small business is awarded up to $850,000 to carry out the assigned project for which the grant is awarded.
The National Association for the Self-Employed Growth Grants
The National Association for the Self-Employed provides small grants to veteran-owned businesses totaling no more than $4,000. These grants are designed to help small businesses with a variety of activities, including advertising, expansion, hiring, training and more. When applying for a NASE Growth Grant, you must meet certain eligibility requirements and state how the funds will help you achieve your business goals. You must also become a member of NASE and include a business plan with your application.
Previous recipients of the NASE Growth Grant have used the funds for farm equipment, upgraded computers, marketing materials, additional employees and website creation. If you have a specific need a small grant can help with, then the NASE Growth Grant is a great option.
Idea Café Grants
While most business owners apply for government-funded grants, private grants can also be a lucrative source of funding. Idea Café is a private organization that offers small business grants. Veterans can qualify for $1,000 in aid whether they already own a business or are planning to start one.
The good thing about Idea Café grants is that the qualifications are fairly relaxed. Simply sign up at the organization’s website and include your business plan in the application. There’s no entry fee to apply and you don’t even need to finalize your business plan to submit it. Idea Café favors businesses providing creative solutions to everyday problems, so if you think your business is original and innovative, you have a good chance of qualifying for the grant.
Another great thing about Idea Café is that it also serves as a resource for business ideas and marketing tips. Even if you don’t plan on applying for the grant program, you should still use the Idea Café website as a means for researching business plans, networking, brainstorming, eCommerce, small business taxes, government grants and merchandising.
Self-Employment Grants for Service-Disabled Veterans
Service-disabled veterans should consider the self-employment grant program offered by the Veterans Administration. Applicants will need to submit a complete business plan, so make sure you spend some time fleshing it out before applying. Applicants are then assigned into one of two categories for the Veterans Administration to determine the amount of self-employment funding available.
Those classed in Category I have severe service-related disabilities while Category II is for veterans with challenges that aren’t considered too severe. Depending on the category you fall under, you may be able to obtain grant funding to purchase inventory, equipment, licensing, marketing, training and other materials for your business. To see if you qualify for the program, contact your local VA office and speak with a counselor about the self-employment program.
Veterans Business Fund
The Veterans Business Fund (VBF) was founded to assist veterans who are ready and able to start or expand their small business. Applications will not be accepted until fundraising is complete, but this program serves as another viable option for veterans hoping to break into the business world.
The VBF is designed to fill the financial hole for veterans who have been unable to secure bank financing for their business ventures due to a lack of equity. The applicant must provide evidence that the bank loan would have been approved if not for this lack of equity. The fund does not provide grants, however, as these are non-interest-bearing loans with capital secured by generous donors. If you have exhausted all grant options and still need affordable loan terms designed with veterans in mind, the VBF is a good supplement.
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program for Disabled Vets
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs oversees the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) Program for veterans with service-related disabilities. The amount of funding you can receive through V&RE depends on the nature and severity of your disability.
Grant money from VR&E can be used to purchase supplies, inventory, essential equipment and licensing fees to start your new business. In order to be considered for funding, applicants must submit a complete business plan. Additional services provided by the VR&E program include counseling, career support, job training, resume development and skills coaching. Even if you don’t qualify for funding through the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, you can still benefit from the numerous services extended to veterans and service members.
The StreetShares Foundation
While mainly a source of business financing and investing, the StreetShares Foundation gives back to veterans by providing three annual awards to winning applicants. Applicants must be veterans, reserve service members or military spouses who already have a business and own at least 50 percent of that business.
To apply for the award, you must submit your business idea and state how you would use the award funds. You must also describe your team and company history, the potential impact the award would make on your business and the influence your business has had on the military and veterans’ community. The Foundation selects up to 10 finalists based on these criteria, then presents the finalists on the website for a public vote. First place wins $5,000, second place $3,000 and third place wins $2,000.
Veteran Entrepreneur Portal
Another resource that doesn’t directly offer funding but connects veterans with available grants and other opportunities is the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal (VEP), which is designed to save time by providing direct access to essential resources that guide veterans through every step of starting and owning a business.
The great thing about VEP is how it connects veteran entrepreneurs with local, state and federal financing programs. You may have funding opportunities in your local area you wouldn’t be aware of without resources like VEP, so it’s worth checking out.
Women’s Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program
Funding from the SBA has made the Women’s Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (WVETP) possible. The WVETP provides female veterans, service members and military spouses essential training for starting or growing their business.
Part of this program is the Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) program operated by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. V-WISE helps female veterans and military spouses discover their passion and learn important business skills to grow their venture and realize their dreams. The three-phase program consists of a 15-day online course, a three-day training event and ongoing mentorship, support and training opportunities.
If you’ve exhausted all options with the above resources and grant opportunities. You may want to search for existing grants through Grants.gov. The website includes a wealth of information about grant programs, eligibility and policies, plus it allows users to apply for grants and track their applications all in one location.
Grants.gov is not limited to veterans, but since it contains information related to all available grants, it’s one of the best places to find federal grant-making agencies. This centralized source features more than 1,000 different grant programs and eliminates the need to research multiple sites and application processes just to apply for federal grants. All applicants are validated via a five-step registration process, after which you can search for grants using keywords such as “veteran,” “military” or “small business.” Be sure to narrow down your search by category and eligibility so you aren’t overwhelmed by the results.
While there is a wealth of grant money available to entrepreneurial veterans, many will still need to secure their own financing through other lenders. At the end of the day, taking out a loan to cover remaining costs is a necessary step. Consider borrowing from an online lender to enjoy more competitive rates and keep your business costs down as you strive to forge ahead in your area of expertise.