Consider this: Nearly one-third of veteran job seekers are underemployed—a rate 15.6% higher than non-veteran job seekers. In a recent survey, 30% of veterans ranked employment as their top concern. And while recent unemployment rates for the United States hover around 6.7%, nearly 1 in 4 military spouses are unemployed, and up to 77% are underemployed.
The global pandemic has only exacerbated the issue. Last year, 42% of military spouses who were working before COVID-19 stopped working since the pandemic began, due to being laid off or furloughed.
Traditionally, veterans and military spouses either accept their employment situation or pursue degrees in a new career, like nursing and education. However, certificates, licensing and testing all take time and resources, resulting in more expenditures and lost income. This leaves military families facing two options: use their GI Bill (if they have one) or incur additional debt in the form of student loans.
For decades, settling or accepting the situation were the only two viable options, besides remaining under or unemployed. This has left many military families struggling financially, unable to build savings or cover unexpected expenditures and jeopardizing their mental and financial health.
But there is another option. Veterans and military spouses can consider creating their own solution by becoming small business owners and redefining their futures.
Indeed, there is a movement afoot of ‘vetrepreneurs’: veterans leaving the military and starting a business of their own. Alongside them are their spouses. In her book “Mission Entrepreneur,” Jennifer Griswold also describes them as ‘milpreneurs,’ or members of the military community striving to build their own businesses.
Mark Rockefeller once called the U.S. military “the best entrepreneurship training ground in America.” And for good reason: vets are 45% more likely to start their own business, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.
It makes sense. To be a successful small business owner, one must have vision and grit. Intelligence and education are also great when combined with the work ethic and passion to get the job done. Veterans and military spouses face many challenges in their daily lives that would make the average person stop in their tracks. These challenges help them develop the skills, vision, passion, grit and work ethic needed to be excellent small business owners.
While traditional businesses typically desire traditional employees, veterans and military spouses are finding a better way. By telecommuting, network marketing and opening virtual businesses, veterans and military spouses are maintaining portability in their careers. Additionally, the options today for military spouse and veteran-owned businesses are extensive: from photography to blogging to online services like web-designing and writing.
These job options all have some key characteristics in common that make them compatible with military lifestyle: they are flexible, portable, have low start-up costs and require little to no experience. They can also provide stability to a veteran as they transition out of the military, or help a military spouse break the cycle of unemployment and the depression that can accompany it.
Becoming a small business owner also provides vets and military spouses with personal fulfillment and economic stability. They gain long-term financial benefits and can build the type of career that best suits the needs of them and their families.
However, there are challenges facing veterans and military spouses seeking to start a small business. In the post-WWII and Post-Korean war eras, 40-49% of veterans started businesses with help of the GI Bill. Today, the SBA estimates that only 20% of veterans are actively pursuing business ownership. This decline is due, in part, to the restructuring of the GI Bill, so it can no longer offer low-interest loans to start small businesses. In addition, the economic crisis of 2007 and 2020 further exacerbated the situation.
And while almost all small businesses are struggling in the wake of the global pandemic, there are some common challenges that affect vets in particular. According to current veteran entrepreneurs, three common challenges can limit their business growth, including:
For veterans or military spouses seeking capital, one option to consider is StreetShares.com. Created by two veterans, the startup offers financial solutions for veteran small business owners and their community, allowing veteran-owned businesses to obtain loans at 2-4% lower interest rates. In two years, StreetShares.com has created a network of over 16,000 veterans and military spouse entrepreneurs.
Veterans and military spouses can also tap into a variety of free educational resources and mentoring resources, including:
There are several ways to support veteran-owned businesses as a civilian. If you’re an accredited investor, strongly consider investing in small businesses that are owned by veterans and military spouses. You can also consider investing in veteran capital funds focused on military veterans, such as TFX Capital, Stony Lonesome Group and Moonshots Capital.
Investing in military spouses’ or veteran-owned businesses does not just benefit one family. Currently, the total number of employees of veteran-owned businesses is 5.03 million, and the total annual revenue of veteran-owned businesses is $1.14 trillion. Encouraging veteran and military spouse business ownership creates jobs and revenue that is good for the mental and physical health of veterans and military families—and it’s good for our economy as well!
Another great way to support veterans’ entrepreneurship is by crowdfunding veteran small business owners. Crowdfunding sites such as Kiva.org allow you to filter business owners to find military families, and they have made an effort to fund veteran-owned businesses.
You can also consider patronizing a veteran-owned business. Keep an eye out for “Buy Veteran” stickers on business doors. There are also a variety of sites, such as VeteranOwnedBusiness.com, which allow you to find small businesses in your area that are owned by military families.
For many veterans and military spouses, the best way forward is to forge your own path as a vetrepreneur or milprenuer! Starting a business is often viewed as one of the most stressful things a person can do, but if one has the vision and grit to get through the early stages of being a small business owner, it can be the source of personal fulfillment and economic stability. You can gain long-term financial benefits while building a career that you can maintain on your own terms.
And for civilians, you can thank those who served by supporting their businesses. In doing so, you’ll give back to the veterans and military families that fought for our freedom, and you’ll help create a stronger economy in the long-run.
©All Rights Reserved. February, 2021. DailyDACTM, LLC d/b/a/ Financial PoiseTM
Mercedes is a business owner and Executive Consultant with Rodan + Fields. In addition, she works in the field of behavior analysis for children with autism and their families, specializing in preschool aged children. She also has her Masters in Science from University of California at Davis.
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