From Battlefield to Business Success

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Veterans' Pathway

U.S. military veterans are coming home from war with tales to tell family and friends.

But these stories may not be about combat or the trials and tribulations of life in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead, believe it or not, they’re increasingly talking about a new mission: starting a business after their return to civilian life.

Entrepreneurship has become a solution for these Veterans, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. The agency says there were 2.4-million Veteran-owned businesses in 2007, accounting for nearly 9% of the nation’s businesses. They generated $1.2 trillion in receipts while employing almost 5.8 million workers.

What’s more, Veterans are 45% more likely to start their own business than civilians with no active-duty military experience, according to a study by the SBA Office of Advocacy.

Actually, becoming an entrepreneur might be their only solution.

For many active-duty service men and women, returning home to their job may be a cruel reality as they find out companies have given away them away.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, introduced in 1994, says jobs are supposed to be protected for such troops. However, the Labor Department and Office of Special Counsel have seen cases alleging violations of the act surge from 848 in fiscal 2001 to 1,577 in the 12 months ending in September 2011 – an 86% increase. Last year, the agencies handled 1,436 new cases, according to preliminary figures reported by The Los Angeles Times.

But even the most heroic Veteran faces a daunting task in their start-up. Many returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Aside from the still-difficult economy, they lack many of the skills, training and business acumen needed to be savvy business operators.

These challenges are bigger today than in the past. There are a number of differences in who is serving, how they are deployed, and how they are fighting. Today’s troops belong to an all-voluntary military and are usually older more likely to be married, with children, than those who came before them. There are more women and minorities in the ranks; and the National Guard and reserves have played a greater role.

Veterans often find that the one specific skill learned in service is not sufficient to compete in a market demanding multiple skills. But certain military experience does come in handy, and in some cases can help balance the table against non-military professionals going through the start-up phase.

Both wars and business start-ups demand money. Organizations such as Veterans’ Pathway To Business Success look to provide grants – that have no fees, no interest and no payback requirements – to Veterans of the war in Afghanistan or Iraq wishing to start or grow their own business.

Veterans’ Pathway was founded by Jerry Kramer, a decorated Korean War veteran.  Upon his return home, Mr. Kramer was faced with the same situation as our Veterans are struggling with today. He was fortunate to have found a benefactor, started his own business and went on to become owner of a leading construction firm in the state of New York.

Veterans have lived a life focused on serving others, and many want to apply what they’ve learned in uniform to their civilian lives. And that’s a good thing, both for them and the nation.

After all, the entrepreneurial mindset is unique. It requires a significant degree of structure, and an unyielding drive to achieve goals. Just like the soldier on the battlefield.

Charlotte Laurent-Ottomane is executive director of Veterans’ Pathway To Business Success. With more than two decades in business, she oversees the organization’s applicant and sponsorship programs.