By Paul A. Dillon, Special for USDR
More than 1 million military personnel will be coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and leaving the service between now and 2016—and, many of them will be starting businesses in your neighborhood.
According to the Kauffman Foundation, an entrepreneur support organization, 45 percent of veterans start their own businesses. In fact, “veteran-owned businesses represent nearly 2.5 million of all U.S. small businesses, employ more than 5.7 million Americans, and contribute close to $1.7 trillion to the nation’s GDP”, states Dr. J. Michael Haymie of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.
This is not a particularly startling revelation. Some of the biggest and most successful companies in the nation, including Disney and FedEx, were started by veterans.
There is a reason for this. Veterans make great entrepreneurs.
Veterans bring discipline, a commitment to accomplishing the mission, unparallelled leadership skills, and, most important, the flexibility and adaptability to improvise and change plans on a moment’s notice to reach a goal. Furthermore, the Kauffman Foundation says that veterans’ “commitment to excellence, attention to detail, strategic planning skills and focus on success are the same traits that make business owners successful.” Indeed, Dan Senor and Saul Singer, in their book, “Start-Up Nation,” say a main reason Israel is one of the most entrepreneurial nations on earth on a per capita basis is the country’s compulsory military service, which creates an environment for hard work and a common commitment to accomplish the mission.
Examples of successful veteran-owned and veteran-led start-ups abound. Here are just a few examples:
DigaForce—Anthony Pompliano, U.S. Army veteran—Co-founder. DigaForce creates standardized metrics to measure and categorize a social audience. By creating demographic, socio-economic, and psychometric reports, DigaForce has been called the “Nielsen of social.” The current product is focused on endorsement and sponsorship vertical within sports. Acquired by Strategic Link Partners (SLP) in 2014.
425, Inc.–Juan Gomez, U.S. Army veteran, Founder. The company concept is to provide a compact and lightweight device that easily affixes to police officer uniforms. This device increases the visibility of an officer and provides visual assistance for responding officers.
Augment-H—Scott Johannes, U.S. Air Force veteran, Founder. Posture trainer product that is simple to learn and does not require the skills of a medical professional to use. Product teaches the user to maintain proper posture, alleviating back pain for long term maintenance even after no longer using the product.
Pigeon.ly—Fredrick Hutson, U.S. Air Force veteran, Founder. Pigeon.ly is a data company that supports connections between those who are incarcerated and the outside world. Pigeon.ly offers two products: Fotopigeon, which lets its 7,000 users upload photos and send the selected images via mail for $.50 per print (with free shipping and a 3-5 day arrival time), and the newly-launched Telepigeon, which provides a money saving way to receive calls from inmates, regardless of an inmate’s physical location.
Veteran Beer Company—Paul Jenkins, U.S. Naval Academy graduate, U.S. Navy veteran, Founder. The Veteran Beer Company is dedicated to providing lives of quality for military veterans through the creation of meaningful post-service careers in the beverage industry. The company produces, sells and delivers beers of superior quality, seeking to employ only veterans in every role within the organization and the supply chain, while adhering to the highest principles of military service, conducting business with integrity, courage, and loyalty.
National programs to support veteran entrepreneurship have been established, such as the Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business Initiative, as well as non-profit organizations like UP Global,InclineHQ, Operation Endure and Grow, the Veteran Fast Launch Initiative, and America Corporate Partners. There is a particularly innovative online initiative called VETtoCEO, which serves veterans not only in urbanized areas, but veterans in rural areas who want to start their own businesses–an often overlooked constituency in the veteran start-up community. There are excellent local vet entrepreneur support programs as well, such the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs’ Mission: Veterans 2 Entrepreneurs initiative.
Yet none of these valuable support organizations appear to offer the intense one-on-one mentorship and direct access to capital that budding entrepreneurs receive in the incubator or accelerator experience. Only a few locations, such as Milwaukee, with its Vetransfer program and Victory Spark accelerator, Texas, with its VETrepreneur Incubator Program, and Silicon Valley, with its Vet-Tech Startup accelerator, offer these types of programs.
Much more needs to be done.
Chicago, and the Research Triangle of North Carolina, with their highly successful network of incubators and accelerators, for instance, could start by reserving at least a few places at these facilities for veterans who want to start their own businesses. If one or two successful vet-owned businesses can be generated from these incubators and accelerators, then consideration can be given to expanding the program later on to include a facility specifically designed to house veteran-owned and led start-ups.
Other centers of entrepreneurial activity around the nation— Seattle, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. could do the same.
The United States has a long tradition of proudly sending its sons and daughters into the armed forces—and, when necessary, into harm’s way.
It can—and should—do much more for its veterans who want to start their own businesses.
Paul A. Dillon is the president and CEO of Dillon Consulting Services LLC, a U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs certified Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business, based in Durham, NC and Chicago, IL. He created and co-taught the highly successful course “Law and Veterans’ Issues: Policy Challenges and Best Practices” at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago. Paul’s client engagements include a research assignment forCrain’s ChicagoBusiness, for the highly acclaimed “Veterans in the Workplace” Focus section that was published in November, 2012.
A U.S. Army Reserve veteran, he served in Vietnam as a 1st Lieutenant, and was awarded 2 Bronze Star Medals.