Veteran’s Day is again upon us. In a year marked by geopolitical instability, it’s all the more important that we remember those who have risked their lives in the name of peace, and now need the chance to build and cultivate their dreams once stepping back into civilian shoes. And that often means seeking business opportunities as entrepreneurs.
There have long been deficiencies in the provision of care, education, job placement, and capital for veterans. Many large organizations like USAA, Bank of America
Another organization providing entrepreneurship support for veterans for decades is VetsinTech, which “supports our current and returning veterans with reintegration services, and by connecting them to the national technology ecosystem.” We spoke with Ikram Mansori, army combat veteran, COO of VetsinTech, and President of the San Francisco Veterans Commission for more insight into what we can all do to support veterans.
Morgan Simon: What are some stats you can share with us regarding veteran entrepreneurship?
Ikram Mansori: Veterans own more than 6 percent of all U.S. businesses (down from 9% ten years ago), employ over 5.8 million people, and produce over $1.3 trillion in revenue annually, a significant contribution to the U.S. economy. That contribution is often underlooked, though. Women in particular face major struggles because of assumptions made about their service. They face marginalization in the military and invisibility outside of it.
MS: What unique skills do vets bring as entrepreneurs and employees?
IM: Veterans have been more likely than their civilian peers to start and run their own businesses. In fact, 49% of WWII veterans went on to start businesses. Even now, up to a quarter of recent veterans report wanting to start their own businesses, though less than 5% have done so. Studies show that the primary barrier is access to capital. Other obstacles include staffing challenges and financing. Because of their experiences, veterans often excel at leadership and teamwork and are often well-versed in cutting-edge technology.
This means veterans can fit well into many environments, especially as companies increase collaboration and increasingly rely on new technology. The complex and uncertain nature of the battlefield can also help veterans develop the skills needed to adapt on the fly in the face of rapidly changing market conditions.
That said, the massive drop-off in veteran entrepreneurship has hurt veteran employment too. Veteran-owned and operated businesses are naturally more likely to be focused on the needs and strengths of veterans.
MS: What unique challenges do they face?
IM: In recent years, rates of veteran entrepreneurship have shown signs of decline, more so among post-9/11 veteran entrepreneurs, even while workforce participation remains high.
Lower entrepreneurship rates may indicate a number of barriers for millennial veterans. Recent studies have shown veteran entrepreneurs having difficulty accessing capital, challenges building credit, unfamiliarity with the financial and regulatory landscape of establishing and operating a business, and a lack of professional networks or mentors who could provide advice on navigating these barriers. These barriers impact underserved and underrepresented veterans at higher rates, including women as well as Black and Hispanic veterans. Resources (ViT StartUp Network, BunkerLabs, Boots to Business, ivmf and more) exist but access, awareness, and exposure to those resources are lacking for many entrepreneurs including veterans and military spouses. That’s one key area in which Federal, State, and local policies can improve: access to information and provide additional support for new and current entrepreneurs.
MS: What is being done to help?
IM: VetsinTech is proud to participate in The Venture Equity Project (VEP), a coalition of 10 leading academic institutions and global nonprofits led by NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center and supported by the JP Morgan Foundation. VEP aims to permanently improve the barriers that exist in the flow of capital to entrepreneurs of color.
The program has built a unique data-sharing consortium of organizations in the US and UK from a range of relevant stakeholders, including capital allocators, Black entrepreneurs and community organizers, who all deeply understand the impact of systemic racism in this sector.
MS: What can people during and beyond Veteran’s day do to support those who have served?
IM: Patronizing the myriad of amazing veteran-owned businesses that already exist is a big help. Sword and Plough and Not Yer Momma’s Granola are great, consumer-focused businesses. Many more are already doing great work in every sector of the economy. There are also plenty of resources to find businesses that might meet more specific or local needs, like the Women Veteran’s Network directory and Bunker Labs’ list of 7 Black Entrepreneurs to Follow. VetsInTech’s 2022 pitch competition finalists include Native, a secure multi-lingual messaging platform, and Grapefruit Health, a medical staffing company that helps clinical students enter the industry.
Veterans are capable and tenacious and have proven that if given the opportunity, they will contribute everything they can to the economy. It’s up to us to make sure they get the chance.