It's not hard to understand why veterans and entrepreneurship are often a successful combination. After all, many of the qualities veterans possess are the same ones that make successful entrepreneurs. Both are resourceful problem solvers, are willing to take risks and have a can-do attitude. The military adage of "adapt and overcome" is lived out on a daily basis by business owners across the country.
Veterans are trained to accomplish the mission. Giving up is not an option. That tenacity can make a tremendous difference for someone starting a new enterprise when challenges can often become overwhelming.
This phenomenon is not without precedent. Following World War II, soldiers, sailors and airmen returned to grow the U.S. economy to new levels of prosperity. The determination honed in European forests and on Pacific beaches drove these men and women to build a nation rich in economic, educational and personal opportunities.
However, today's environment — the worst economic crisis since the Depression — presents fewer options. While WWII and Korean War veterans signed on to companies for life, planning to spend their entire careers with one organization, many of those companies have disappeared from the American landscape. This economic shift has created challenges for those seeking to take a job, but opening opportunity for those wishing to make a job.
For veterans encountering difficulty assimilating into civilian society, choosing entrepreneurship offers other benefits. Many veterans struggle with identity upon their transition from the service. No longer in combat situations, isolated or simply away from home, they need to find a new role to play — one that requires personal accountability. Entrepreneurship often provides that sense of value, independence and responsibility.
In addition, many veterans report that after the intensity of military service, working for someone else often does not provide enough excitement, pace or challenge. Small business ownership offers all of that, plus a share of risk that appeals to many veterans.
Another reason for veterans' interest in entrepreneurship is their strong desire to provide employment for other veterans. The bonds forged in military service create a brotherhood that is hard to leave behind. And veterans trust veterans to follow through, work hard and stay focused on the mission. Veterans find it comfortable to take advice and seek knowledge from one another, even if one is in a more senior position. It's a team approach to problem-solving that makes veteran-owned companies resilient.
Veterans with disabilities often find entrepreneurship to be a viable alternative for different reasons. For one, it provides the flexibility in their professional lives that allows them to adapt to and work with their various challenges. If a veteran is his own boss, time for medical appointments and rehabilitation is at his discretion and does not require release time from a supervisor.
Finally, and not surprisingly, veterans are often some of the most successful franchisees in the small business world. Depending on the company, many franchises can be very prescriptive. New owners receive a set of standard operating procedures and punch lists and work to operationalize the plan. What better training for that kind of business start-up than the military? Follow these steps, in this order, and you can achieve success.
Whether adopting a successful franchise model or taking a new business model to the marketplace, it's clear that the determination, work ethic and courage required of business owners come home with them from the battlefield. In honor of Memorial Day, these entrepreneurs deserve our support, encouragement, respect and gratitude as they continue to serve their communities and nation — not only this month, but year round as well.
For essential veterans' business assistance, see Eleven organizations that boost veterans' businesses.
This story was featured in the May 2013 newsletter