Many people in the military think about starting a business when they finish service. The Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business program is a tool that can help you find your way.
Small business owners come from all walks of life. Some people stumble upon a great idea that grows into something bigger, while others run the small business that has been in their family for generations.
A growing group of small business owners are military veterans. According to information from the latest census, the US Census Bureau found over 2.5 million businesses that are majority owned by veterans. These companies employed over 5 million people and generated over $1 trillion in revenue.
With tens of thousands of veterans leaving the military each year, many are seeking advice, training and funding to help them start and grow their businesses. One point of contact is the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Here’s what you need to know about how the SBA can help veterans.
What is the SBA Boots to Business program?
The SBA runs a variety of programs that provide small business owners and entrepreneurs with tools to help grow and fund their businesses. These range from SBA loans to mentoring programs and grant opportunities.
Sometimes the SBA works with other government agencies and organizations to provide more specific training and services. To support veterans and encourage entrepreneurship, the SBA has partnered with the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop the Boots to Business program (also known as the Boots 2 Business or B2B program).
It is conducted in conjunction with the DoD’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP helps service members, including those in the National Guard and Reserves, and their spouses make the transition from military back to civilian life. Early in this transition process, service members are introduced to the various programs and opportunities available to them.
Eric Miller, CEO and founder of Marsh Creek Social Works, recently retired after 20 years of service in the US Army. As part of his return to civilian life, he took part in the B2B program in autumn 2019 and explained part of the transition process.
“In some of the very first steps of the process, these programs are introduced and explained to all transition members,” he says. “So even if you’ve never heard of B2B, you will surely learn about the program as you begin your transition and you will have the opportunity to participate in the two-day B2B program.”
SBA Boots to Business program options
The B2B program includes a few different avenues.
Introduction to Entrepreneurship
This is a two-day workshop that provides a basic overview of business fundamentals and corporate ownership. Essentially, it’s a 101-style course for getting started as a business owner.
Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship
Graduates of the Boots to Business workshop can enroll in a more advanced eight-week online course conducted by accredited colleges and universities through the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University.
The coursework here combines online learning with professors as well as independent study. For example, participants could learn the basics of writing a grant application or developing a business plan.
Additional additional services
After completing the B2B workshop, you can also take various optional additional courses. These topics range from business basics to market research.
Miller highlighted the Introduction to Franchising course as a path to success. “In fact, there are some franchises that pull most of their franchisees from the rotating service member pool,” he says.
For veterans who have been out of service for a long time, have not participated in the B2B program or live far away from military installations, there is also the Reboot program. The Boots to Business Reboot (B2BR) offers various face-to-face courses and business fundamentals training during 1-2 day off-base workshops.
As of the end of 2019, over 100,000 service members have participated in the SBA B2B program since the SBA B2B program began in 2013.
What to Expect from the SBA Boots to Business Workshop
At the beginning of the transition process, you may be interested in the B2B workshop. Here’s what to expect before you start.
It’s a good basic overview
Remember, you won’t learn everything you need to know about running a business successfully in a two-day workshop.
However, if you are interested in learning more about starting a business, the workshop combined with the other courses can give you a solid overview of basic business fundamentals. From there you can determine if it’s the right path for you.
You get access to many other resources
The B2B and B2BR programs not only teach you the basics of starting a business, but also provide an in-depth look at other programs available to veterans.
Miller highlighted these resources as a positive part of the program. “For me, the most beneficial part of the program has been learning about the myriad of resources, additional training and opportunities available to veterans entering the business world – and having it all in one place.”
You get access to mentoring opportunities
Something the SBA, not just the B2B program, offers is access to a broad network of mentors through its Small Business Development Centers (SBDC). There are over 60 of these centers across the country.
“During the B2B training, I learned about the SBDCs and was able to connect with the SBDC at George Mason University (GMU) for one-on-one mentoring on business structures,” says Miller. “And I would like to note that I am an associate professor at GMU and was not aware of the SBDC!”
How to qualify for SBA funding
The B2B program does not offer direct funding. However, the SBA has several programs you can use to get credit for your business if you need it, including some that cater to veteran-owned businesses.
If you’re considering applying for an SBA loan, here’s how to make sure you’re giving yourself the best chance of financing.
1. Know the minimum number to qualify
The SBA provides financing through lenders, including banks and credit unions. Before beginning the application process, contact your local lenders and find out what you need to get a loan. Many have minimum numbers for credit scores, fiscal years, and earnings.
2. Check your financial health
When it comes to getting a loan, your credit rating is a key factor. So know your numbers. For example, if you need to increase your credit score, you can focus on that.
3. Get your documents in order
It shouldn’t come as much of a shock, but SBA loans often require a lot of paperwork. Before you apply, make sure you have your financial documents organized and ready.
4. Create your business plan
Most SBA loans require you to submit a business plan and complete an in-person interview as part of the application process. For this reason, your business plan is an integral part of your application. Check it to make sure it’s solid.
After going through everything above, this step should be self-explanatory. After you apply, your lender will let you know if you have been approved and provide next steps.
Use the available programs
As a veteran, you and your family devote time and energy to service. Regardless of how long you have been in the military, from a few years to decades, there are programs and opportunities available to help you find the right path back to civilian life.
As you begin your transition out of service, consider the options available. There are all kinds of people and programs ready to support you as you start building and growing your own business.