When former Army Engineer Captain Courtney Wilson, launched her business, DropZone for Veterans, the plethora of assistance for veteran business owners astounded her.
“I was surprised at the resources available," says the combat veteran and Bronze Star Medal recipient, who served some time in Afghanistan. “America does an incredible job of supporting the troops and veteran entrepreneurs, offering everything from discounted business services to mentoring, training and networking programs."
Wilson launched DropZone for Veterans, a customizable, online resource center of opportunities available to members of the military from businesses and organizations, in November 2016. Within 90 days, her company was cash positive, debt-free and generating revenue, thanks to several awards open to veteran business owners.
Wilson received $35,000 seed money through various organizations, including competitions. Vet To CEO awarded her $17,500 when she won a business plan writing competition and StreetShares Foundation awarded her $5,000 when she placed first in their monthly Veteran Small Business Award.
Wilson started DropZone for Veterans after seeing how such a connection positively affected a fellow soldier.
“I watched this person really struggle when adjusting to civilian life, including suffering from crippling panic attacks. I suggested he try an outdoor healing retreat that I'd attended, and he came back a changed person," says Wilson. “I thought about how profound it was that he connected to one resource that literally saved his life."
Challenges Adjusting to Civilian Life
Struggles to adjust to a less structured civilian life after a more regimented military service experience are common for many veterans.
“The biggest challenge is the transition, which is harder than you ever imagined," says Jason McCarthy, a former member of the Special Forces Group and founder and CEO of GORUCK, which produces fitness gear and holds fitness challenge events, some of which are free or discounted for veterans.
—Joseph Kernan, chairman, NS2 Serves
“When you leave the military, there's a loss of identity and support structures," says McCarthy, whose company also supports the Green Beret Foundation. “GORUCK serves as a bridge between the military and civilian worlds. Our events offer the opportunity to connect with likeminded people. The experiences aren't easy—they're led by former Special Forces guys—but I've yet to meet a vet who's looking for the easy route."
Mentoring Veteran Business Owners
In addition to support groups, mentoring opportunities for former military are valuable, believes Isaac Oates, founder and CEO of Justworks, which features a platform that provides business owners with HR, benefits, payroll and compliance guidance. Prior to founding the company, Oates served 16 years in the military as an intelligence officer in the National Guard and Army Reserve.
“Active duty has its obvious stresses, but assimilating back into civilian life can provide a new set of anxiety-inducing events, which is where mentorship can be so valuable," says Oates, who personally mentors a veteran. “When veterans are able to speak freely about challenges and hear advice from another veteran, who has already taken those steps, that helps with translating military skills and experiences into civilian language."
Helping Veteran Business Owners Excel
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA) April 2017 report, “Veteran-Owned Businesses and Their Owners," veteran-owned small businesses employ 5.03 million people with an annual payroll of $195 billion and receipts totaling $1.14 trillion.
“Veteran business owners thrive," says Wilson. “If you survived the war, you can do anything. Veterans just need some assistance and training."
Many veterans possess skills, such as leadership, punctuality, discipline and the drive to succeed, but don't realize how those skills will help them in the civilian world.
“Former members of the military are able to navigate high-pressure situations, deal with difficult issues and work on various teams, making them invaluable assets when working for or running a small business," says Oates. “The military lives and breathes similar leadership development to what a civilian might get in an MBA program."
Promoting Veteran Business Owners
A variety of organizations exist to help veterans draw from their vast talents in order to thrive in business and as business owners. These include Bunker Labs, which through local chapters across the U.S., provides access to resources and educational programming, as well as a network of military veterans succeeding at business.
Some organizations offer training programs to veterans, such as NS2 Serves. Founded in 2014, the nonprofit trains and employs veterans in high-tech careers. They can take advantage of a three-month, all expenses paid, in-residence training course each spring and fall. To date, more than 130 veterans have graduated from the program.
“I believe that a person's character truly shines in the face of adversity," says retired Vice Admiral Joseph Kernan, a 35-year U.S. Navy veteran and Chairman of NS2 Serves. “Veterans have the ability to overcome obstacles unlike anyone else, which is why NS2 Serves is equipping veterans with the technical skills needed to overcome the hurdles they face in their civilian lives."
Patriot Boot Camp is another nonprofit that holds technology entrepreneurship boot camps designed to equip active duty military members, veterans and even their spouses with the education and resources to succeed as technology entrepreneurs.
Finding and Recruiting Veterans
Recruiting services specifically targeted to veteran business owners and potential employees are also springing up, such as Hire Served. “We are essentially a headhunter company looking to hire former military, firefighters and law enforcement," says the company's CEO, Jean South, who worked for nine years as an FBI Special Agent, has parents who are veterans and is married to a Marine.
“Our ideal client is a growing veteran business that wants to find veterans/former public servants," says South. “We augment their existing recruiting efforts by translating the military language, culture and mindset. Private sector organizations that hire veterans and harness their skills, such as resilience and adaptability, see incredible outcomes for their businesses and their teams."
Applicants Plus for Veterans is another agency connecting veterans with businesses. “As any entrepreneur knows, your company is only as good as the team around you," says the company's CEO Burton Roberts. “Veterans know this better than civilians, because of their time serving the country with other reliable, dedicated and hardworking teammates. Companies looking to hire can benefit from a pool of such talented veterans."