Over the past several months, Veterans’ issues have drawn increasing national attention. As United States troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan return to civilian life, soldiers and civilians alike are concerned about the job market that awaits them. For many, the excitement of coming home is overshadowed by the anxiety surrounding the difficult transition to civilian life and work. Veteran Entrepreneurial Transfer, Inc. (VETransfer), the nation’s first business accelerator exclusively for Veterans, has been designed specifically to empower Veterans to start their own businesses, rebuild our economy, and create jobs.
Veterans in the Civilian Work Force
Before 2016, it is estimated that 1 million soldiers will transition from active duty to civilian status. As President Obama emphasized in his State of the Union Address, these Veterans hold great potential to help fortify the American economy, as previous generations of Veterans have before them.
The men and women who serve our Country represent a significant American investment. Our Veterans are trained to be highly effective leaders capable of taking on the most daunting tasks. Highly specific, state of the art training combined with strong teambuilding and problem solving skills make our Veterans a powerful force to help rebuild the American economy. In light of all they have to offer, one would hope that Veterans would come home to the best opportunities for fulfilling employment. For many Veterans, however, the process of reintegration into the civilian work force can be frustrating and emotionally taxing.
Many employers cannot understand the way that skills developed through military service can translate to a civilian career. Some are hesitant to hire reserve soldiers for fear of additional tours interrupting their employment, and others view Veterans as a risk in the workplace due to misconceptions about their military service or emotional stability.The Battle at Home
Recent legislation providing incentives to employers that hire Veterans is a step in the right direction, but is by no means a complete solution. Historically, employment assistance resources have been available to Veterans, but traditional employment isn’t always an easy fit for those with military backgrounds. Many Veterans feel that they do not blend well into corporate culture. Civilian employers and co-workers cannot relate to Veterans’ experiences, and the daily operations of most companies cannot compare to the stimulation of the life and death situations encountered in active duty. These factors, in combination with the already stressful transition to civilian life, can result in feelings of isolation and frustration in the traditional work atmosphere.
One Veteran describes his experience working in sales after returning home, saying, “it was hard to find the motivation to get out of bed and go [to work] every day.” In the Navy, he had participated in rescue missions, saving lives on a regular basis. Quite frankly, the civilian job he had landed seemed insignificant and monotonous; he felt he had lost his sense of purpose and his skills were not being utilized.
Filling the Void
A void has become evident in the programs available to support Veterans in the transition to a civilian career. Assistance has been offered to those who wish to pursue academic interests, and to those who seek traditional employment, but it is clear that something more is needed to ensure successful, satisfying post-military ventures. In an effort to fill this void, VETransfer was founded. VETransfer, the Nation’s first business accelerator exclusively for Veterans, is a pilot program funded through the Federal Department of Veteran Affairs as part of the VAi2 innovation initiative to provide training for Veterans in entrepreneurial ventures.
Entrepreneurship provides an ideal solution for Veterans who seek a fulfilling alternative to traditional employment. By starting their own businesses, Veterans can take control over their lives and invest their time and energy building a rewarding career. Whereas most traditional employment options involve the adoption of someone else’s passion, entrepreneurship allows Veterans to pursue their own dreams.Entrepreneurial Warriors
Often, Veterans find that building a business is a natural step from military service. In the military, soldiers develop skills that smoothly translate to entrepreneurial endeavors: leadership, problem solving, teamwork, troubleshooting, and strategic planning, for example. In fact, when compared with the general population, Veterans are 45% more likely to become entrepreneurs. Additionally, the success rate of Veteran owned businesses is higher than that of businesses owned by non-Veterans due to the unique skills acquired through military service.1 VETransfer helps to break down the barriers that hold Veterans back from entrepreneurial pursuits. When a Veteran enters the program, they gain access to mentoring, training, and education in lean startup methodologies. An online curriculum makes these resources available not only to Veterans at the physical location in Milwaukee, WI, but also to Veterans worldwide. They gain the skills they need to create a business model, identify target customers, develop their product or service, and test their solution in the market. A staff of highly skilled professionals and serial entrepreneurs is available to guide Veterans through each step of the business building process, helping them handle aspects that often overwhelm entrepreneurs.
When VETransfer was launched in March of 2011, the goal was to incorporate 40 Veteran owned businesses into the program by the end of the two-year pilot program. Only one year later, that goal has been surpassed, with over 250 Veteran program participants.
Building a Community of Veteran Entrepreneurs
The value of the VETransfer program extends far beyond entrepreneurship training and mentoring. When Veterans enter the program, they become part of a community of Veteran entrepreneurs. Service men and women have access to a community of camaraderie, mutual understanding, and common ground. The joint workspace in the physical accelerator facilitates collaboration, creativity, coordination, and networking among Veteran entrepreneurs, and it is not uncommon for partnerships to form through the program.
As Veterans create businesses, they become part of a larger entrepreneurial network, driving innovation and creating jobs in their communities. Because all net job growth comes from startups2, entrepreneurs help to strengthen the economy on local, regional, and national levels. The distinction of the Veteran community lies in the fact that Veteran business owners understand and value military experience, and are eager to hire our Nation’s heroes, with or without tax related incentives. This two-year pilot program has already had a profound positive impact in the Veteran community as well as in the general population. As troops return from combat, VETransfer provides the training they need to help strengthen the American economy through entrepreneurship.
1 SBA Office of Advocacy Research, May 2011 Self Employment Among Veterans
2 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
Christopher Lange is a U.S. Navy veteran and the Assistant Communications Manager at Veteran Entrepreneurial Transfer, Inc. (VETransfer). VETransfer is a Milwaukee based, Department of Veterans Affairs sponsored business accelerator for veterans who aspire to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors. Please visit www.vetransfer.org for more information. Chris can be reached at (414) 502-8387 or email@example.com. You can also follow us on Twitter @VETransfer.
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