This week is National Veteran Small Business week! However, what does that mean to an outsider? Why is it important to recognize this subset of entrepreneurship? In different circles you will hear the parallel drawn between small businesses being the backbone of the United States. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) there are 28.8 million small businesses which accounts for 99.7% of all U.S. businesses. These small businesses employ just over 56 million individuals, about half of the U.S. workforce. Another backbone of this country are veterans and their families. There would be no Life, Liberty or the Pursuit of Happiness without them; we became the land of the free because of the brave.
Veterans have a long history of being entrepreneurs and building both literally and figuratively main streets across the nation with their businesses. After WWII 45% of returning veterans became entrepreneurs as part of their transition, and while that number has declined today, there are still doing so today. While only 7.3% of all living Americans have served in the military at some point, 10% or 2.5 million of U.S. small businesses are veteran-owned. These businesses employ 5.5 million people and bring in 1.2 trillion in receipts. Many of these are companies that you heard of; Nike was founded by Army Veteran Bill Bowerman; Walmart, cofounded by Army veteran Sam Walton; GoDaddy and FedEx were founded by Marines, Bob Parsons and Fred Smith respectively; and newcomers Plated.com, who are quickly becoming a household name, was founded by Nick Taranto, a USMC veteran. So what makes a great entrepreneur, and why do so many veterans identify with this path?
- They can make a lot happen with limited resources – Doing a lot with a little, lean startup, or wearing many hats are all things synonymous with being a part of a startup. But this goes beyond staffing – veterans have to make important calls in the field with limited amounts of input relying on what their team has provided them, often combining several information sources into one go forward business strategy. The ability to take in information, isolate what is important and then set a trajectory with limited resources is something that every successful entrepreneur has to master especially in the startup phase but it also something that comes natural to veterans.
- They operate well under pressure – Understaffed, underfunded, and otherwise under-resourced is the theme of many startups. Which leads to entrepreneurs wearing many hats and often learning as they go. I have personally watched how this one skill can make or break a startup over my career. This valuable training skill comes easily to those who serve.
- They know how to effectively manage risk –Improvise, Adapt, Overcome. This is a mantra of many servicemen and women. And while some may mistake entrepreneurs as cavalier risk-takers, they are in fact quite the opposite. The best entrepreneurs are calculated risk-takers. While entrepreneurship is not about risking life and limb in the pursuit of profit, exploiting opportunities and sticking to a plan while also knowing when to make small adjustments in order to perfect the path is something that successful entrepreneurs and veterans have in common.
- They value honor and commitment – As an entrepreneur, and especially a startup, often your word is all that you have. These values are intrinsic to veterans. They understand commitment to their country and their ideals – whether that is an oath of service to their country or using the same hand that they made that oath with, to shake the hand of their newest customer – veterans know their word is their bond and that translates to the business world as well.
- The importance of Team Building – Veterans know the importance of a fire team, which by definition the role of each fire team leader is to ensure the fire team operates as a cohesive unit. This is the same for an entrepreneur; they know that they need to build a team that has unique complementary skills in order to carry out the mission of the firm. This is another area that determines the success of many startups and just another way that veterans have a leg up when it comes to the skills necessary.
The list could go on as to why entrepreneurship seems to be a natural choice for veterans. Starting this week and continuing throughout next 30 days the IVMF will be highlighting 30 veteran entrepreneurs, partners and staff members that have been a part of our journey over the last 11 years. You can learn more at ivmf.syracuse.edu/30in30. All of these individuals and businesses not only have the 5 characteristics listed above in common, but they themselves have taken their service to their country beyond retirement or separation by building better businesses, jobs and communities not only for veterans but for the general public. For that, I want to say thank you to them and encourage you to show your support by buying veteran and supporting vetrepreneurs on their next mission: business ownership.