By George Altman
Military Times Staff writer
May. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM

The military teaches service members leadership skills and responsibility that many civilians can’t match. Yet the unemployment rate for the latest generation of veterans has long been higher than that of civilians.

Some vets have found a quick way around the problem: going into business for themselves.

The risks of being your own boss often dwarf those of joining a Fortune 500 company, but so are the rewards. A small-business owner may be stuck with the losses of a struggling business, but could keep the profits of one that flourishes.

On top of that, a small-business owner can set the direction of the company: its business model, how it grows and, not least, who it hires.

This Military Appreciation Month, what could be a better tribute than starting and supporting the kinds of businesses that can shrink that unemployment rate one vet at a time?

Here are some tips:

Start with TAP

After years of focusing just on education and employment, the military’s Transition Assistance Program has begun to offer guidance on starting small businesses. Operation Boots to Business, a Small Business Administration program, is offered at TAP classes throughout the U.S. It includes a two-day introduction to entrepreneurship, a business feasibility analysis and the opportunity to take an eight-week, online university course, in which professors will help troops develop a full business plan.

Get help post-transition

Such support doesn’t end when you pick up your DD-214. Several programs, both public and private, can help vet small-business owners succeed. The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans, a crash course on starting and running a small business, is offered at select universities around the country. Syracuse University has V-WISE, a small-business workshop just for female vets that travels the country. The SBA’s Veterans Business Outreach Centers and district offices can also provide guidance.

Consider a franchise

One of the biggest challenges of running a small business can be figuring out the particulars of setting it up. Franchises can simplify that. Pay a royalty or fee to the franchise brand, and the business model, logos, sometimes even the advertising, are taken care of for you. On top of that, many franchise brands offer special discounts, incentives or training to franchisees who are military veterans. VetFran, a branch of the International Franchise Association trade group, includes more than 580 franchises that offer such perks, and its website lets you search for the companies by business type.

Find financing

Vets have lots of places to turn for financing. The SBA’s Patriot Express Loan program is designed for vets and people connected to the military. Starting this year, SBA also has begun discounting and waiving loan fees for vets. Outside of the federal government, vets can turn to the nonprofit Veterans Business Fund and the crowd-funding website Some groups have even set up events where vet entrepreneurs can make pitches to venture capitalists with investment money at the ready.

Patronize other vet businesses

If you’re wondering whether your T-shirt was made in America, just look at the tag. It’s almost as easy to find out whether your favorite business is vet-owned. The Veterans Affairs Department has a searchable database of registered vet businesses at The site also offers detailed instructions on how owners can register their businesses with VA as vet-owned, which adds a company to the database and grants priority for federal contracts.