Attention Vets: Recognize your start-up skills

Happy Veterans day to all soldiers, we are proud of you!
By Steve Strauss

Q: I am a combat veteran and am having a hard time finding work. I have thought about starting a business but am not sure. Do a lot of vets go the small business route? — Bill

A: I met Bill when I was in D.C. last week for the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Week. As I am writing this column on Memorial Day weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to answer his question here because there are a lot of vets in the same boat.

• There are 25 million veterans in the United States. 8 million are from the Vietnam era, and the vast majority of the rest are from the Gulf War to the present. More than 1 million men and women have already served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
• 22 percent (about 5 million) of those veterans are either purchasing, starting, or at looking at starting a new business.

There are many reasons why veterans make great entrepreneurs – they tend to have the leadership skills, planning ability, and stick-to-it-tiveness that go hand-in-hand with small business success.

In addition, they also have the desire, and need, to be their own boss. Consider this sobering statistic: According to this USA TODAY report, “The 11.2% jobless rate for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who are 18 and older rose 4 percentage points in the past year. That’s significantly higher than the corresponding 8.8% rate for non-veterans in the same age group. …”

So, between their unique skills set and the tough economy, veteran entrepreneurship is likely to be on the rise.

Here is an example: Army Staff Sergeant Robbie Doughty was only 32 when a roadside bomb in Iraq cost him both his legs. Honorably discharged from the Army, the sergeant and his young family faced a very uncertain future as he endured months of rehabilitation, not knowing what he would or could do in his condition, or how he would care for his young family. And then he received the phone call that changed his life.

On the other end of the line was Michael Ilitch, the owner of the Little Caesars Pizza franchise (as well as the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings.) Having read about Sergeant Doughty in USA TODAY, and even though he had never met the sergeant, Ilitch simply wanted to thank Doughty for his service and give him some words of encouragement.

Yet after a while, moved by the young man, his grit, determination and story, Ilitch offered Doughty a remarkable opportunity: To open his own Little Caesars Pizza franchise in his hometown of Paducah, Kentucky. Amazed at his turn of good luck, Doughty accepted the generous offer and today is a successful entrepreneur, taxpayer, father and husband.

Unfortunately, most veteran entrepreneurs do not have a Michael Ilitch in their lives. But the good news is that there are plenty of other people and resources out there who want to help the new veteran entrepreneur. Here are some of my favorites:

The National Veteran Owned Business Association: Says NaVOBA, “NaVOBA unites current and future veteran-owned businesses by acting as the national voice for the veteran business movement. NaVOBA works to convince corporate America and the government to consider using veteran-owned businesses as preferred vendors.”

One reason I highly recommend NaVOBA is because I know these folks. I write for their magazine (Vetrepreneur) and know first-hand how committed they are to veteran small business success.

The SBA Office of Veterans Business Development: The SBA, whose website is here, is a great resource, as always.

The Department of Veterans Affairs: The VA also has a website full of useful resources.
You may also want to check out the National Veterans Entrepreneurship Conference held this September in San Francisco.

Today’s tip: Before I went to D.C. I was contacted by Ford and was asked if I wanted to test-drive a new car that was “designed for small business.” More than one person I mentioned this to wanted to know just what the heck that could be. Me too! It sounded like a marketing ploy to me.

Boy, was I wrong. The folks at Ford showed me a great, sharp looking car that many small business people would be wise to check out – the new Ford Transit Connect. It is a small cargo-type car/van perfect for the small business that hauls stuff or makes deliveries: An antique dealer or a bakery for instance.

This car was indeed designed with a small business in mind:

• It’s small enough to get great mileage, but the inside cargo area is incredibly roomy and well designed.
• Unlike a traditional van or minivan, the Transit Connect’s cargo area offers various customizable options, depending
on the business. The one I drove was specifically outfitted for a florist with small racks, bins for flowers, etc.
• The car can seat, two, four, or five passengers, has sliding doors on both sides, and two rear doors that open fully.
• The radio area is a wireless screen with full Windows capability. The wireless keyboard turns it into a moving office.

Did someone say American car companies were in trouble? They won’t be with great cars like this.

Steve Strauss is an internationally recognized lawyer, columnist and speaker. He is the author of 15 books. Steve’s business column, Ask an Expert, appears weekly on Copyright 2010 Steven D. Strauss. Steve Strauss is



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