When veterans transition from military service to civilian life, they have many opportunities to make their mark — including in the business world. Many veterans take their next steps by starting companies and building startup ventures.

There are always challenges to becoming an entrepreneur, of course, but veterans have many excellent resources specifically tailored to them. Opportunities such as grants, loans, and specialized contracting programs can help financially build a business, and conferences, events, and organizations can help them forge the strong business connections they need to succeed.

If you are a veteran looking to dive into the business world, consider these steps to create a strong network and foundation.

Utilize veteran-specific grants and loans

One major consideration for building a business is securing funding. Two routes to find capital are often through grants and loans. Grants are a type of financing that does not need to be repaid and are usually awarded to businesses and business owners that fit the grant’s specific purview or mission. Loans are a type of funding that does need to be repaid and can be accessed through several sources, such as the federal government or private lenders.

While veterans can apply for any type of grant and loan they see fit, veteran entrepreneurs can also kickstart their business ventures by taking advantage of veteran-specific grants and loans. In many cases, these programs are tailored with the unique needs and experiences of veterans in mind, making it easier to access capital — and often with more favorable terms.

Popular veteran-specific grants and loans programs

1.    U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Veterans Advantage Loan Program: This program offers loans with reduced fees and competitive interest rates for veterans looking to start or expand their businesses.

2.   The Second Service Foundation: Formerly called StreetShares, this organization provides veterans an opportunity to pitch their businesses and win grants.

3.   Hivers and Strivers: This angel-investment group focuses on funding early-stage, veteran-owned startups, and also provides capital and guidance to accelerate business growth.

4.   Warrior Rising: This non-profit enables veterans to compete for startup business grants, while also offering a business development program.   

There are also many grants and loan programs within specific states that veterans may be eligible for, depending on their location. For instance, women business owners in Texas may be able to apply for the Veteran Woman Entrepreneur Grant through Texas Woman’s University. And veterans in Michigan can look into Grand Valley State University’s Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur Lab.

Government contractor programs

Government contracting programs can play a vital role in many veteran entrepreneurs’ business planning. These programs offer unique opportunities for veterans to secure government contracts, providing a reliable and stable source of revenue for their businesses. By leveraging these programs, veteran business owners can access a range of benefits including preferential treatment in contract bidding, set-aside contracts exclusively for veteran-owned businesses, and specialized training and resources to navigate the complex government procurement process.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a key resource for veterans interested in government contracting. The SBA's veteran contracting assistance programs are specifically designed to support veterans in their pursuit of government contracts. The SBA provides valuable resources, such as counseling, training, and certifications, all of which can help veterans understand the requirements and procedures involved in government contracting.

It's important to note that the popularity and availability of all the above-mentioned programs may vary over time. Therefore, veterans should conduct thorough research to ensure they have the most up-to-date information regarding each program's status and requirements.

Attend conferences and events

Conferences and events tailored for veteran entrepreneurs offer invaluable opportunities for networking and learning from like-minded people, who share both past experiences and future goals. These gatherings can bring together entrepreneurs, industry experts, and potential investors, creating an environment conducive to fostering strong business connections.

Popular veteran-specific business conferences and events

5.   Veteran Entrepreneur Training Symposium (VETS): VETS focuses on providing educational resources, networking opportunities, and access to government agencies for veterans seeking to start or grow their businesses.

6.   National Veterans Small Business Engagement (NVSBE): NVSBE serves as a platform for veteran-owned businesses to connect with federal procurement decision-makers, fostering partnerships and collaborations.

7.   Veterans Business Battle: This annual pitch competition offers veterans the chance to showcase their business ideas to a panel of experienced judges, potentially securing investment and mentorship.

8.  Bunker Labs Veterans in Residence Showcase: Bunker Labs supports veteran entrepreneurs through their Veterans in Residence program, culminating in a showcase event where participants can pitch their businesses to potential investors.

9.  Business Beyond the Battlefield Conference: This conference provides veterans with the opportunity to learn from successful entrepreneurs and connect with industry professionals through workshops, panels, and networking sessions.  

Network with other veterans

Cross-veteran networking plays a pivotal role in establishing a robust support system for veteran entrepreneurs. There are numerous avenues through which veterans can connect with each other, share experiences, and collaborate to drive business growth.

Popular cross-veteran networking opportunities

10.  Veteran business organizations: Joining veteran business organizations enables entrepreneurs to connect with a diverse network of veterans, including many who have experienced similar challenges, and can offer valuable advice and support.

11.   Online veteran networking platforms: Online platforms dedicated to connecting veteran entrepreneurs facilitate virtual networking, mentorship, and knowledge sharing.  

12.  In-person veteran entrepreneurship programs: Participating in in-person entrepreneurship programs tailored for veterans creates opportunities to form meaningful connections and receive mentorship from experienced professionals.

13.  Veteran-specific business competitions: Competing in business competitions designed exclusively for veterans can open doors to funding, recognition, and networking opportunities.

14.  Conferences, trade shows, and more: Attending conferences, trade shows, and industry events related to veterans and entrepreneurship provides opportunities to meet potential partners, investors, and customers.

15.  Chamber of Commerce: On a local level, a town or city's Chamber of Commerce may also offer information on a network of locally owned veteran businesses, and may also host networking nights specific for veterans.

16.  Local business groups: Seeking out the resources and support of local veteran groups and veteran trade groups on establishing social networking sites can also open up avenues to connect and share knowledge.

Form a connection with the right business partner

Along with identifying specific resources for veterans and building a meaningful business community among peers, choosing the right banking partner is also crucial for veteran entrepreneurs. Financial institutions that have experience working with veterans, such as PNC, can often understand the unique conditions of building a business after military service. These institutions can also help veteran entrepreneurs by offering highly tailored financial guidance, access to veteran-specific loan programs, and a deep understanding of the challenges faced by veteran entrepreneurs.

Starting a company is always a journey, but having the right resources to build strong business connections can help make the road easier. Veteran entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to not only find financial assistance, but also join a thriving community of other veterans looking to uplift each other and achieve business success.

For more information, visit PNC's Starting Your Own Small Business page.

Get Help Solving Your Business Challenges at pnc.com/veterans