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Veterans contribute to entrepreneurship at a higher rate than non-veterans, according to a 2021 data report by SCORE — a nonprofit organization that offers free resources to small-business owners. This report also found that although veterans applied for COVID relief loans at the same rate as other business owners, they were denied more often.
If you’re a veteran entrepreneur looking for financing, you might consider small-business grants. Veteran business grants can offer free funding, as opposed to small-business loans or other types of debt-based financing that you have to repay.
Applying for veteran small-business grants can be competitive and time-consuming, but the payoff can be worth it if you can secure the funds.
Here are 10 places veteran business owners can look for small-business grants — plus additional resources for running and financing your operations.
How Much Do You Need?
Small-business grants for veterans
Managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, Grants.gov is a database that features over 1,000 federal grant programs. These small-business grants are offered by a variety of government agencies, such as the Department of Labor, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Commerce.
To apply for one of these grants, you’ll want to make sure your business meets all eligibility criteria, and register for a Grants.gov account. Although these business grants are not exclusive to veteran entrepreneurs, this database is a good place to start if you’re looking for free funding.
2. Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs
The SBIR and SBTT programs offer small-business grants to veteran-owned businesses (as well as other companies) that are looking to contribute to federal research and development. The Small Business Administration coordinates these two programs, and 11 federal agencies list grant opportunities on the SBIR website. Funding amounts vary based on the individual grant.
To qualify, you must have a for-profit business focused on technological innovation and research with the intent of commercialization. Your business must also be U.S.-based and have no more than 500 employees.
3. Veteran Business Outreach Centers
The Small Business Administration backs 22 Veteran Business Outreach Centers across the country, which provide workshops, training, counseling and mentorship to veteran business owners. These organizations offer services such as business plan preparation, comprehensive feasibility analysis and pre-business plan workshops for entrepreneurs looking to launch a new business.
VBOCs can also help you understand your financing options and connect you to additional SBA resources, such as community partners, lenders and programs.
4. State and local governments
Many state governments allot funds specifically to support veteran small-business owners. Some states offer certifications for veteran-owned or service-disabled veteran-owned businesses — to help those entrepreneurs compete for government contracts.
Through your state, you may be able to take advantage of veteran-focused training programs, webinars and networking opportunities. The Economic Development Administration in your city or state may also be able to connect you with local funding options, including business grants.
GrantWatch is an online grant listing platform that features hundreds of small-business grants from all over the U.S. You can browse the directory to find a grant that meets your needs and eligibility criteria, including searching specifically for grants for veterans.
Although GrantWatch offers a free membership, the premium membership gives you access to additional features, such as keyword search and the ability to view full grant information. Paid memberships start at $18 for a weekly subscription.
6. The Second Service Foundation
The Second Service Foundation, formerly the StreetShares Foundation, runs the Military Entrepreneur Challenge, which gives military veterans and their spouses the opportunity to win grants for their businesses. To compete in the challenge, you must submit an application that includes a two-minute pitch video explaining why your business should be chosen.
After the application deadline closes, eight to 15 finalists will be posted on the Second Service Foundation website, and the three entrepreneurs with the highest votes will pitch their businesses at a live event. The winning business owner will receive $15,000. The second-place owner will receive $6,000, and the third-place owner will receive $4,000.
7. Warrior Rising
Warrior Rising is a nonprofit organization that helps veterans transition to “vetrepreneurs.” The organization runs a six-step business development program that includes training, coaching, mentoring and networking. Through the process, veterans may have the opportunity to present their business idea and compete for a startup grant.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. military veteran or immediate family member and complete a simple application. Warrior Rising will consider applications from startups and established businesses.
8. Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab
For small-business owners in the Michigan area, Grand Valley State University operates the Michigan Veteran Entrepreneur-Lab. This three-month program offers startup training and networking opportunities for veteran entrepreneurs and their spouses.
Over the course of the program, participants prepare for their business launch — identifying potential customers, finding the right tools, and meeting with industry experts. MVE-Lab concludes with a pitch competition in which winning entrepreneurs are awarded small-business grants.
9. Veteran Woman Entrepreneur Grant
Texas Woman’s University offers this small-business grant to female veterans who are starting or currently own a business. The annual grant program awards $5,000 grants to 10 business owners throughout the state of Texas.
Grants can be used for a variety of purposes, including equipment, machinery or technology purchases, marketing or advertising campaigns, and property improvements. To qualify, you must provide documentation that your business is 51% or more women-owned or controlled. You also need to provide documentation showing your veteran status.
10. U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards
The annual U.S. Chamber of Commerce Dream Big Awards honor a variety of small businesses and their contributions to the American economy. To qualify, you must have a for-profit business that has been operational for at least one year. You must also have fewer than 250 employees or gross revenues of less than $20 million for each of the past two years.
The grand prize Dream Big winner is awarded a $25,000 grant. Additional category-specific awards are available, including the Veteran-Owned Business Achievement Award and the Woman-Owned Business Achievement Award. Applications are closed for 2022, but you can sign up to receive information on the next award cycle.
Additional resources for veteran entrepreneurs
Financing advice and business training can be highly beneficial for veterans looking to start or grow their businesses. Finding organizations that focus on vets-turned-entrepreneurs or working with business mentors who have transitioned out of the military can be particularly helpful.
Here are some resources for veteran-owned businesses.
Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small-Business Program
This SBA program helps qualifying veteran entrepreneurs obtain government contracts. The federal government aims to award at least 3% of federal contracting funds to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses through this program every year.
Among other criteria, participants must own at least 51% of a business and have a service-connected disability, as determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Boots to Business
Boots to Business, or B2B, is a free, two-step education and training program offered by the Small Business Administration to service members who want to become entrepreneurs. The program includes a two-day introduction to entrepreneurship course, which provides tips and techniques for starting a business, including how to write a business plan. All active-duty military members transitioning out of the military and their partners or spouses are eligible.
Veterans of all eras and their spouses can participate in a similar program that covers the same course material, called the Boots to Business Reboot (B2BR). After completing either the B2B or B2BR program, participants can continue their business training with the B2B Revenue Readiness course. This course is available online for free through Mississippi State University.
Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF)
The Institute for Veterans and Military Families, or IVMF, at Syracuse University provides education and resources for business-minded veterans. The institute holds a variety of training events, including Boots to Business, IGNITE, the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans With Disabilities (EBV) and the Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship program.
IVMF also offers a resource library and access to an alumni network to help new and existing business owners find the support they need.
Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship
Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, or V-Wise, is a three-phase program that offers tools to help female veterans become successful entrepreneurs. Coordinated by IVMF, the program includes a 15-day online training course, a three-day in-person event, as well as ongoing mentorship, resources and support for launching or growing a business.
V-Wise costs $75 and is open to all honorably discharged female veterans, active-duty female service members, and the female partners or spouses of the above (including widowed spouses or partners).
Veteran Institute for Procurement
The Veteran Institute for Procurement, or VIP, provides training for veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses throughout the U.S. to help them secure contracts from the federal government. VIP offers five accelerator training programs, working with both startups and established businesses.
Through VIP, veteran entrepreneurs can access educational events, networking opportunities and community support. Training programs are available to eligible businesses at no cost.
Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU)
Part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, or OSDBU, houses a variety of resources for veteran entrepreneurs. Through OSDBU, you can get your business verified to participate in the Veterans First Contracting Program, find upcoming webinars and training sessions, as well as reach out to small-business liaisons to get more information about working with the VA.
The OSDBU website also houses the Veteran Entrepreneur Portal, which collects resources to help veteran business owners find funding and franchising opportunities, acquire government contracts, and access networking connections.
Alternatives to small-business grants for veterans
Although there are a variety of resources available for veteran-owned businesses, getting a small-business grant can be difficult — and finding and applying for this type of funding can be tedious.
If you decide to explore your other financing options, here are some possibilities to consider:
Hivers and Strivers. Hivers and Strivers is an angel investment group that invests exclusively in businesses owned and operated by veteran entrepreneurs. You can receive from $250,000 to $1 million in funding from this group — but you’ll have to be willing to give up some equity in your company. This type of funding is well-suited for early-stage startups that anticipate significant growth.
SBA loans. For established veteran-owned businesses in need of capital, SBA loans can offer large loan amounts, long repayment terms and competitive interest rates. You’ll also need good credit and strong revenue to qualify. Plus, for Express loans, the SBA waives the upfront, one-time guarantee fee for veteran businesses.
Online business loans. Startup businesses or those with lower credit scores may find greater flexibility with online lenders. Online lenders can offer a variety of products, including term loans, business lines of credit, invoice factoring and equipment financing. These lenders tend to have more lenient qualification requirements, however their interest rates will likely be higher than that of a bank or SBA loan.