This week is National Veteran Small Business Week. In different circles you will hear the parallel drawn between small business success and the backbone of the United States economy.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) there are 28.8 million small businesses which account for 99.7 percent of all U.S. businesses. These small businesses employ more than 56 million people, about half of the U.S. workforce. Another backbone of this country is Veterans and their families. There would be no “life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness” without them. We became the land of the free because of the brave.
Veterans have a long history of being entrepreneurs and building both literally and figuratively main streets across the nation with their businesses. After WWII, 45 percent of returning Veterans became entrepreneurs as part of their transition, and while that number has drastically declined today, they are still doing so today with10 percent or 2.5 million of U.S. small businesses are owned by Veterans
These businesses employ 5.5-million people and bring in $1.2 trillion in revenue. Interestingly, many well-known brands are companies founded by Veterans – Nike was co-founded by Army Veteran Bill Bowerman; Walmart, was co-founded by Army Veteran Sam Walton; GoDaddy and FedEx were founded by Marines, Bob Parsons and Fred Smith respectively; and newcomers Plated.com, who are quickly becoming a household name, was founded by Nick Taranto, a USMC Veteran.
So what makes a great entrepreneur and why do so many Veterans identify with and succeed as small business owners? Here are a few reasons:
- They can make a lot happen with limited resources – Doing a lot with a little, lean startup, or wearing many hats are all things synonymous with being a part of a startup. But this goes beyond staffing – Veterans have to make important calls in the field with limited amounts of input relying on what their team has provided them, often combining several information sources into one go forward business strategy. The ability to take in information, isolate what is important and then set a trajectory with limited resources is something every successful entrepreneur has to master particularly in the startup phase. But it’s also something that comes naturally to Veterans.
- They operate well under pressure – Understaffed, underfunded, and otherwise under-resourced is the theme of many startups. Which leads to entrepreneurs wearing many hats and often learning as they go. I have personally watched how this one skill can make or break a startup over my career. This valuable training skill comes easily to those who serve.
- They know how to effectively manage risk –Improvise, Adapt, Overcome. This is a mantra of many servicemen and women. And while some may mistake entrepreneurs as cavalier risk-takers, they are in fact quite the opposite. The best entrepreneurs are calculated risk-takers. While entrepreneurship is not about risking life and limb in the pursuit of profit, exploiting opportunities and sticking to a plan while also knowing when to make small adjustments in order to perfect the path is something that successful entrepreneurs and Veterans have in common.
- They value honor and commitment – As an entrepreneur, and especially a startup, often your word is all that you have. These values are intrinsic to Veterans. They understand commitment to their country and their ideals – whether that is an oath of service to their country or using the same hand with which they made that oath, to shake the hand of their newest customer – veterans know their word is their bond and that translates to the business world as well.
- The importance of team building – Veterans know the importance of a fire team, which by definition the role of each fire team leader is to ensure the fire team operates as a cohesive unit. This is the same for an entrepreneur; they know they need to build a team that has unique complementary skills in order to carry out the mission of the firm. This is another area that determines the success of many startups and just another way that Veterans have a leg up when it comes to the skills necessary.
The list could go on as to why entrepreneurship seems to be a natural choice for Veterans. Starting this week and continuing throughout next 30 days the IVMF will be highlighting 30 Veteran entrepreneurs, strategic partners and staff members that have been a part of our journey over the last 11 years. You can learn more at ivmf.syracuse.edu/30in30. All of these individuals and businesses not only have the five characteristics listed above in common, but they also have taken their service to their country beyond retirement or separation by building better businesses, jobs and communities not only for Veterans but for the general public.
About the author: Misty Stutsman is the director of the entrepreneurship and small business portfolio at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. Within this role she is charged with building the Center of Excellence for Veteran Entrepreneurship as well as the Coalition for Veteran-owned business. In addition she oversees a broad portfolio of nearly a dozen programs and projects that advances and promotes Veteran entrepreneurship nationwide through research, resources, supply chain opportunities and tools as well as training and program development.