Would-be veteran entrepreneurs planning to leave the military and launch their own businesses need more access to capital and support services to succeed in their efforts, outside advocates told lawmakers on Wednesday.
“We have to elevate the conversation related to veteran business ownership in this country in a way where those interested become networked,” said Michael Haynie, executive director of the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families, during a House Small Business Committee hearing.
“We need something akin to a health care network, where we can manage the coordination and the navigation of veteran-owned businesses through [available] resources,” Haynie added. “It starts at the local community level, extends to the state level, and then available increased federal resources, primarily from the Small Business Administration.”
The hearing comes as federal officials have reported an uptick in new business launches in the wake of massive layoffs and furloughs during the American coronavirus pandemic.
In April, SBA administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said that business applications have risen more than 30% from pre-pandemic levels, with 5.4 million new ones filed in 2021 alone.
Past research has shown that veterans make up an outsized portion of that entrepreneur workforce. Veterans are 45% more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans, and roughly one-in-ten veterans own their own firm, according to SBA.
But Haynie and other advocates told lawmakers that those links between the military and small business ownership don’t always lead to smooth transitions for veteran start-ups.
“While I speak highly of many of the SBA programs, I also know that there are many veteran-owned businesses unable to access these resources because of their location,” said Laurie Sayles, CEO of her own consulting company and chairwoman of the Women Veterans Business Coalition.
“For example, I know the Veterans Business Outreach Center plays an integral role in supporting veteran-owned small businesses throughout their journey,” she added. “However, I did not utilize that because there was not one in Maryland. I’m glad to say now that our state will be adding one soon.”
According to research from Syracuse’s IVMF, 42% of veteran entrepreneurs cited a lack of initial capital as the top barrier in pursuing their business goals. Another 46% said they had difficulty understanding and using resources in their communities designed to help them start a business.
Committee members said they are looking for ways to improve the scope and public knowledge of those kinds of available federal programs.
House lawmakers last fall passed legislation to make permanent the federal Boots to Business Program, which offers transitioning troops training on business ownership issues. The Senate has not yet acted on that proposal.
Witnesses during Wednesday’s hearing praised those federal support services as critical. But Haynie noted that government support for businesses has limits and that broader community support is also needed to make sure new start-ups grow and thrive.
“The next horizon is to open up the supply chains of private sector companies, particularly Fortune 500 companies, to veteran businesses,” Haynie said.
“We often look at government contracting as the objective for veteran-owned businesses. But the reality is, if you look at the supply chains of this country’s largest private-sector businesses, they represent a remarkable opportunity to grow and catalyze veteran-owned business in this country,” Haynie added.
SBA estimates there are about 2.4 million veteran-owned firms in America today.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.