By Stephanie Raimbert
Many veterans choose to start a small business after their time in the military and many are currently feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and government response. Veteran-owned small businesses are vital to the American economy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), there are more than 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses in the United States, employing more than 5 million persons. Business funding programs for veterans recognize the sacrifice and service of more than 18.2 million military vets in the United States. These obstacles have touched many veterans, who are 45% more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans.
“Veteran business owners should be proactive and decisive in applying for aid when it is made available,” said Rikki Amos, Executive Director of the International Franchise Association (IFA) Foundation, the sponsor of VetFran. “The overwhelming demand for resources from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is indicative of the widespread need for assistance.”
In order to qualify for federal grants, government grants, or other grants for military veterans or financing, you must fall into one of the following categories:
· Honorably Discharged Veterans (some grants may specify a particular conflict or time period, e.g. post-9/11 era)
· Service-Disabled Veterans
· Active Duty Military service member participating in the military’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP)
· Reservists and National Guard Members; or
· Current spouse of any Veteran, Active Duty service member, or any Reservist or National Guard member; or widowed spouse of a service member who died while in service or of a service-connected disability.
Throughout this pandemic, there was an influx in COVID-19 related opportunities for veteran-owned small businesses. Below are the top 3 grants and top 5 loans to help veteran small business owners start, grow, and maintain their businesses.
TOP 3 GRANTS
1. Government Grants for Veterans
Through the grant database, there is a complete list of all government awards that could get your business the funding it needs. This includes disabled veteran business grants and other specific types of financing for veterans.
Each grant will have its own set of guidelines and restrictions, so make sure to do research on selecting the right grant for you. In general, government grants require a clear and well-written proposal. You’ll want to make sure you put in the effort and time to complete the best application when seeking federal funding.
Tip: Before you can apply for grants through the federal government, you must register with the System for Award Management (SAM) website and apply for a DUNS number. After that, you can create your account on the grants.gov site and begin your search for small business grants for veterans.
2. Veterans Business Outreach Centers
One of the first resources that a veteran-owner small business can seek out for financing and training is their local Veteran Business Outreach Center. Managed by the SBA, but located in 15 centers across the country, it is the first-rate tool for veterans looking for funding during the pandemic.
The centers offer not only access to qualified referrals to independent grants but also to management courses, market research for veterans interested in opening a business or franchise.
3. Service-Disabled Veterans Grants
The VA offers special consideration for service-disabled veterans in the form of self-employment grants. To qualify, you must submit a business plan for review.
After approval, the VA will determine whether you fall into Category I or Category II. Category I is for veterans who have the most severe level of service-related disability. Category II is for veterans who face challenges but have a lesser degree of disability. The amount of the grant will be based on the Category designation. This grant may be used for all business-related expenses and does not need to be repaid.
Interested veterans should meet with their local VA office to discuss these grants with a self-employment counselor.
TOP 5 LOANS
1. Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loans
The Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loan (MREIDL) program is run by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Unlike other SBA loans, which are offered through banks and direct lenders, the SBA provides loans of up to $2 million directly to veterans through the MREIDL program.
Not intended for all veterans, this veteran SBA loan program is geared particularly toward small businesses that are unable to meet their operating expenses because the owner or an essential employee was called to active military duty. The loan helps small business owners cover their expenses until the employee can return.
If you own a small business that has struggled financially as a result of your active-duty military service or that of a key employee, consider applying for this program. You can qualify for a low-interest business loan (the current interest rate is 4%) that may be able to help your business get back on its feet.
The loan is available to businesses that apply between the time period when the owner or employee is called to active duty and within one year of their release. The program allows for repayment terms up to 30 years. However, keep in mind that the program requires collateral for loans over $50,000.
2. SBA 7(a) Loans
The SBA 7(a) loan is the most popular type of SBA loan for small business owners. This loan, open to both veterans and non-veterans, offers up to $5 million to finance a variety of business needs. SBA 7(a) loans have long repayment terms—as long as 25 years for real estate—and low interest rates.
Through the Veterans Advantage program, the SBA waives the upfront guarantee fee for veterans for 7(a) loans of $125,000 or less. They offer a 50% reduction of the guarantee fee for 7(a) loans greater than $125,000 and up to $350,000. The SBA also provides counseling and training to qualifying borrowers, which can aid the transition from military life to entrepreneurship. For the ultimate guide on the SBA 7(a) loans, click here.
3. SBA Express Loans
Another SBA loan program that’s a good choice for veterans is the SBA Express Loan program. SBA Express Loans are a subprogram within the 7(a) loan program, offering loans up to $350,000 and fast approval decisions.
Both veterans and non-veterans can apply for SBA Express Loans, but the SBA has a Veterans Advantage program that waives the upfront guarantee fee for veterans who qualify for this loan. Normally, this fee is 2% to 3% of the loan amount. Veterans, reservists, national guard members, and spouses are eligible to have the fee waived.
One potential drawback for borrowers of the SBA Express Loan is that the maximum funding amount you can receive is $350,000. However, veterans can apply for and receive funding through this loan program. For more information on the SBA Express Loans, click here.
4. LendingClub Veteran Loans
LendingClub is one of many private lenders offering special benefits for veterans. Their small business loan for veterans has a term of one-to-five years, with borrowing limits of $5,000 to $300,000. You must have a credit score of at least 600 and a business that has operated for at least two years with annual revenue of at least $50,000.
5. Accion Veteran-Owned Business Loan
Accion is a non-profit organization offering a business loan for veterans. Accion’s mission is to help small businesses thrive. It’s important that veterans have access to the right tools for success in business, which is why Accion also offers financial planning, networking opportunities, and organizational and management resources. Accion can provide a loan so you can buy or upgrade equipment, purchase inventory, secure a commercial space, purchase supplies, remodel, hire staff, or market and promote your businesses to attract new clients.
If you’re a veteran business owner in need of financing to start or grow your business, check out if Accion is the right fit for you.
OTHER BUSINESS FUNDING FOR VETERANS
Besides the three grants and five loan programs for veterans mentioned above, there are other ways that vets can secure the capital they need for their small businesses according to Ron Flavin, Inc. Some of these include:
· Self-funding: Through this approach, you raise your own financial resources to support your business. Also known as bootstrapping, this type of funding can include money from friends and family, savings accounts, personal loans, or even tapping into your 401k.
· Microlending: One of the most challenging aspects of starting a new business from the ground up is securing the necessary funding to back your dream. While there are grants and SBA programs available to veterans, you may also consider financing through a microlender. Microlenders provide loans to small businesses for operational business costs. These loan programs may not be available from more traditional lenders and are often easier to get than traditional bank loans.
RESOURCES: MENTORSHIP AND TRAINING
Below is a list of resources including mentoring and training, financing a business, guides on how to write a business plan and more according to Finimpact. Common platforms for the aid of US Veterans include:
· The Office of Veterans Business Development
· Boots to Business
· Boots to Business Reboot
· Veterans Women Igniting the Spirit of Leadership (VWISE)
· The National Center for Veterans Institute for Procurement
· Veterans Business Outreach Center
· The Bunker
Veterans Stay Strong
There are many organizations including VA’s OSDBU and SBA that have a number of online resources to support Veteran small business owners during these unpredictable times. Fortunately, veterans are trained as leaders to be very adaptable and are able to find solutions quickly when crises arise. These important skills that veterans acquired during their time in the military are what every veteran business owner benefit from during these uncertain times.
It is critical that veteran business owners don’t accept defeat, use the resources they have, secure their team, be a good communicator, always have a contingency plan, and support their local business community. Veterans should try to do the following recommendations in order to have their small business to stay afloat: (1) connect or re-connect with your entrepreneurship service providers, i.e. Small Business Development Centers, Veterans Business Outreach Center, Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans, Veterans EDGE, Coalition for Veteran Owned Business, Bunker Labs, etc.; (2) reach out to your entrepreneurship networks, both veteran and non-veteran; (3) share your challenges with veteran service organizations; and (4) communicate with your employees as well as your customers by showing empathy and understanding which can help identify new opportunities and ways of conducting business.
Many of the SBA’s entrepreneurship programs are being offered in a virtual setting, including its flagship entrepreneurial education and training program, Boots to Business. Boots to Business is now available in a real-time virtual format for transitioning service members, veterans, and military spouses. If you’re looking for additional business training and workshops, the SBA’s entrepreneurship training programs for women veterans, service-disabled veterans, and veterans interested in federal procurement are also transitioning to online environments. OSDBU also has education and training resources for veteran entrepreneurs interested in doing business within the federal and commercial marketplaces.
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