“When you have prepared for combat, you are more than prepared to take on the business battlefield.” – Carol Roth, Huffington Post
In a world of globalization, technology, and competitive markets, becoming a great entrepreneur is a task many business men and women find increasingly difficult. Often, success derives from qualities and experiences in other walks of life. One such instance is the war veteran; a defender of freedom, an inspiring member of the community, and an individual who has demonstrated many of the traits necessary for becoming an entrepreneur already.
Risk taking, self-confidence, commitment, motivation, determination, time management, and the allocation of resources are seen in both war and business, but transcending from the former to the latter allows a living to be made away from such dangerous terrain. Higher education teaches students fundamentals and theory; war veterans learn through applying their acquired skills to real life circumstances in the field. Coupled with veterans’ unique appreciation of the value of life, the ability to think quickly on their feet and survive in the heat of fire makes veterans especially well-suited for entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is a Practical Way for Veterans to Re-Enter the Workforce
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. veteran population was more than 21 million strong as of 2014. War veterans are comprised of individuals of all ages; many are in service from their late teenage years to their early twenties, entering the workforce at the same time as a university graduate.
A survey conducted by the Center for Research and Public Policy found that the biggest concerns among veterans when returning home are applying military training to the workplace, job placement, and career counseling. For many, entrepreneurship is the most practical way to put their skills to use in the civilian world in a field that allows them to contribute to society in a way that’s meaningful to them.
In 2014, more than 2.4 million small businesses were owned by a U.S. veteran. Those with active-duty experience were 45% more likely to be self-employed than those without; veterans are more risk-tolerant and can put business failure into perspective.
According to JP Morgan Chase & Co., veteran-owned franchise businesses in the U.S. directly provide jobs for 815,000 Americans and these businesses generate more than $41 billion in GDP.
The Business Community Offers Support for U.S. Veterans
U.S. veterans place themselves on the front lines of the country’s battles to protect the freedoms of the innocent, and the business community attempts to repay these tremendous debts by offering support in a variety of ways. Sure Mobility, for example, a company that sells scooters, wheelchairs, and other mobility equipment, donates one percent (1%) of all purchases to two charities: The Wounded Warrior Project and Project Mend. These charities assist veterans in regaining their lives once returning from duty, raising awareness and providing programs to help with the transition to normality. The company’s ‘Make an Offer’ feature allows customers to choose how much they’d like to pay.
“Good corporate citizenship is paramount for any company today,” says Ian Lovejoy, Owner of Sure Mobility. “Investing in local and national communities is an effective way to give back while promoting that sense of global community in not only employees but customers as well. We can think of no better group of people to invest in than our veterans.”
Another organization aiding veterans is the SBA (Small Business Administration), which offers support to U.S. veterans starting businesses. The SBA assists in creating a business plan, finding initial customers, hiring employees, and estimating costs. Veterans can apply for loans and have their expenses met should an employee be recalled to active duty.
The SBA isn’t the only entity that supports veterans on the path to entrepreneurship. Financial institutions often readily cater to veterans seeking to launch companies that require financing. “Veterans are a very safe bet and a good risk for loans and financing of all types. This would include of course unsecured (or no collateral loans) because typically most every aspect of their lives are very disciplined and squared away, including their finances,” explains Ted Kennedy, Senior Account Manager for Pinnacle Money Group.
“Because of this discipline, we’re able to offer veterans the best service when it comes to acquiring an unsecured / no collateral loan. Veterans or service members typically have a highly developed code of honor and integrity that mandates they live up to life’s obligations, including the financial ones, making them desirable customers for financial lenders,” Kennedy says.
The Qualities That Make Veterans Great Entrepreneurs
“Veterans bring amazing advantages to the entrepreneurial game–things like discipline, perspective, leadership ability, and the learned skill of seeing problems as opportunities–to say nothing of having accomplished ambitious goals with the weight of a gigantic bureaucracy on their backs.”–Bill Murphy Jnr, Inc.com
A successful business must take risks and be proactive; a reactive approach is often too little, too late. A successful entrepreneur needs self-discipline; they need to be able to solve problems and lead teams in the right direction. U.S. war veterans are trained to excel in these situations.
Veterans, due to the time they have spent in trying circumstances, have an innate ability to perceive unmet needs for products, policies, and services. When a market opportunity exists, founders need only the money and the space to form a business. Effectively navigating risks is a special skill acquired through training and implementation. Where others may believe the risk is too great, veterans are more likely to stick to a plan and ready to accept responsibility for the outcome.
“As an entrepreneur, it’s inevitable that you’ll face adversity,” says Chris Nolte, an Iraq War Veteran who served in the Army as a fuel truck driver from 2000-2005. After serving in the Army, Nolte founded Brooklyn-based Propel, an electric bike business that today is a prominent company and an industry leader. “My experience serving overseas taught me never to give up, and there is always a way to persevere. I learned to evaluate all the resources available and to use them as effectively as possible. Having the courage to move forward and take risks has proven to be invaluable in this new business.”
Veterans learn from their mistakes. The consequence of a mistake in military service far exceeds risks involved in business; life and death are clearly more significant than profit and loss. A veteran is committed to seeing a plan through until the end, motivated and determined to find victory even as potential loss lurks all around, through adaptation, change, and improvisation.
This extends to time management, knowing where to place effort and resources when a new approach is required. “The electric bike market is in its very early stages here in the states, so I’ve had to draw upon my military experience constantly to push through this new unknown territory,” Nolte explains. “I know that growth happens by overcoming challenges, and I believe I wouldn’t have grown into the man I am today without my military training.”
When veterans return from a mission with a disability, they seek ways to contribute to society; through education, by supporting other disabled vets, and by creating opportunities for others. Being an entrepreneur is often more taxing on the mind than the body, so a brilliant idea and exceptional organization skills can ensure the creation of business regardless of the physical condition of the innovator.
Examples of Veterans Who Embraced Entrepreneurship
While outlining qualities and discussing facts can demonstrate the worthiness of a U.S. veteran for becoming an entrepreneur, the following examples show just how successful the transition can be.
RideScout is an idea that was established in 2013 by two army veterans, Joseph Kopser and Craig Cummings, who turned into technology entrepreneurs by uncovering an unmet need in the market. Kopser wanted to know the best way to commute from his home to the Pentagon, which was five miles down the road, and couldn’t find an application that solved his problem. Put simply, RideScout aims to get you from point A to point B as quickly as possible, utilizing all forms of transportation.
Their vision: “Our cities are more congested than ever, and over 78% of cars on the road are single-occupancy vehicles. What if RideScout could change that? RideScout replicates the reliability and flexibility of car ownership with access to bus, rail, bikeshare, car share, taxi, carpool, walking, biking, driving, and parking in one simple app.”
Perhaps the most well-known example is a service you would often use. FedEx, a delivery service, was written about by Frederick W. Smith in 1965 in a university paper. When he returned from military service (four years in the Marine Corps) in 1971, Smith purchased Arkansas Aviation Sales and soon set out to achieve what he had written about while in school: Federal Express, a courier company that focuses on speed and reliability and understands the time-sensitivity of important packages. His paper received an average grade, but his idea has become iconic.
As delivery used the same route as passenger services, Smith’s initial plan to change this coupled with his experience in the military led to the establishment of FedEx in 1973 (with 389 team members). The company began to expand globally in 1984. FedEx broke revenue records, registering $1 billion in 1983, making it the first company to reach such a figure within ten years of launch.
The automobile insurance company USAA (United States Automobile Association) began when 25 army officers came together to insure each other’s cars. The first policy was for $114.74 in the 1920s, and in 2011, the yearly profit was $2.13 billion. This demonstrates the collective power of U.S. veterans working together to achieve a goal, be it survival in the most challenging circumstances or successfully launching a company. USAA has been distinguished as one of America’s most admired companies and one of the best 100 companies to work for by Fortune.
America is aware of the abilities that U.S. veterans acquire during their time in service. Many of these abilities overlap with the skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur, as many veterans-turned-entrepreneurs have demonstrated. Hard-working individuals create businesses that adapt and change with the times, and veterans are proving that higher education isn’t the only way to find a place within the ranks of successful business owners.